A Thousand in the Snow
By: Alexander David Jackson
This story was originally submitted to Mythic!
It had been several days since the stiff, frost-bitten Dwarven parchment, along with its equally frozen Dwarf messenger, had completed its journey from the Realms of the Dwarves and found itself in the Imperial Hall of Wolfenburg. It had then been several days more that the Imperial council debated the course of action that should be taken regarding the parchment. Indeed, the words on the parchment were of Dwarven origins, who were staunch allies of the Empire in these trying times, but the plea for assistance contained within roll of script was certainly something of a shock. In short, it indicated nearly six new Dwarven keeps that had recently been overrun by Greenskins; Goblins in particular.
Worse yet, it detailed three more of the strongholds which were believed by the Long beards to be the next sights of the massive Greenskin incursion. These three strongholds still remained occupied by the Dwarven folk, yet were in a poor state of defense and terribly under-manned. As the Dwarf messenger had said of the keeps, with a hint of surly comedy, "Thar be more wooden planks remainin' in the holds than thar be Dwarves! An' we Dwarves put our faith in mortar an' stone, not wood!" Perhaps an over-exaggerated comment, but heedful all the same. This parchment lead to heated discussions all throughout the Empire, as grand masters pledged to provide troops to their stalwart friends, while other councilmen and town ships felt the request was too expansive.
"How many men must the Empire send to ensure the success of the defenses?! A thousand, Ten thousand, Perhaps one-Hundred?! If the Dwarves were unable to hold their own territory from the Greenskin advance, then what makes us believe that we can send troops equipped enough, and fast enough, to respond to the next advance with a successful defense?! I feel the pledge that they are asking is far too much, especially when we consider our own defensive state, which, my dear members of the council, is lacking, to say the least! Thus, I move to suggest a denial of the proposal of military assistance."
The preaching of many angered council members who echoed the same sentiments could be heard even through the massive wooden doors that stood oppressively shut, which lead to the Grand Assembly Room.
Captain Geltan remembered hearing the statements made by the fiery councilman, and, to him, not going to battle was a welcome privilege, one that he and his regiments hadn't experienced in quite some time. He then heard the heavy steps of Emperor Karl Franz as he descended the few stairs that led to one of the central seats in the room.
Having the Emperor here in Wolfenburg was a surprise, but given that Wolfenburg was perhaps the nearest Imperial City to the Dwarven realms, it seemed on obvious place to hold such an important meeting, on an equally important topic. Then, the Emperor spoke. Though his charisma was apparent, a stern decisive tone was the dominating factor in his speech.
"So we should abandon our stout friends, Councilor?" questioned Franz in a mocking tone.
"My Lord, we do not have any other option when the safety of your Empire is at stake--" The councilor was cut shot by a fiery Emperor.
"No, councilor, leaving the Dwarves to their peril is not an option. Now then, you were correct in your previous statement. In this, we have no other option than to aid the Dwarves. If we allow these three keeps to fall we will have left the road to the Empire from the Mountains open, and inviting. The Greenskins never deny an invitation to destruction, councilor."
Geltan shut his eyes tight and sighed. The decision would be made. They were going to help the Dwarves. Men were going to die. They weren't going to see homes, their wives, or their children. By his command men were going to die, as it always was. They would see miles of snow and rock, smell the stench of Goblins, and undoubtedly feel the blades of Orc warriors. It was his duty however, as one who rules both the deaths of his own, and the deaths of the enemy with his order, so too must he preserve life, by the same system. By this time his train of thought was broken as the Emperor continued.
" I decree, as Emperor Karl Franz, mighty and just leader of the peoples of the Empire, and by all Imperial edicts, verdicts and agendas, that we will send aid to the Dwarves, begging with the garrisons here, inside Wolfenburg. They will be the first of many regiments to respond to the aid. Sigmar be with them.
Geltan snapped back to reality. His body had taken over the duty of trudging forward in the deep and heavy snow, while his mind had remembered the decree that sent him here. The blistering snow, meanwhile, which was luckily blowing with them, reminded him of the direction they must take. Geltan did not need to look back to scan the number of troops he had among his regiments. All he needed was vague hearing, enough to recognize the clang of plate armor upon every step, the chant of the Sigmarite priests, or the soft shoes of the militiamen and hand-gunners who strode on leather soles. Failing that, the next regiments that were set to arrive, however slow or late, would see some thousands prints in the snow. It would be doubtful that those same prints would indent the paths back to the Empire -- at least, not for many days or months -- perhaps never again. Of course, such thoughts were of no consequence, but they served to alleviate the chilling winds and endless dunes of snow, and jutting, craggy peaks.
Then came the scamper of feet that broke the song of the regiment's step. Geltan snapped his head right, like an eagle, but there was nothing. No goblins or puny Snotlings. Then, to his left. There was a smallish figure beside him clad in robes. In an instant he drew his sword and readied it to slice through the air and down on his foe. In fear, the figure stumbled backward before falling in the snow. Then, the figure threw his hood back to reveal no goblin nor chaos worshipper. Only a young, human boy, perhaps fourteen years of age. The boy was breathlessly in awe of the shiny sword that fluttered, ready at his throat, like a beast, before it was reigned in, back to its sheath.
"What is the matter with you boy?! What finds you in such harsh quarters of the world?" Geltan asked as he yanked his helm from his head.
"I'm the regimental wizard's apprentice. I'm studying in the field."
"I see, Rendal's apprentice then?" Inquired Geltan.
"Yes Captain, but Rendal is not well. H-he's fallen into the snow, passed out, from the cold. No one noticed, except me, we've marched a fair distance from where he fell, I ran as fast as I could to catch up to you, at the front of the march, sir."
Geltan glanced back and saw a small black figure fading away as the line kept moving; the figure was unmoving, as the boy had said.
"By Sigmar!" he cursed. "We've not the time to go back for him, might be frozen dead by now..."
The boy flinched and balked at such a prospect. Geltan looked 'round feverishly and wiped his face in frustration. "But I have to try, I ought to stop the march," he whispered to himself as he fumbled around his satchels to find his horn, which he raised to his lips and blew. It gave a few sturdy, bland tones, and the whole of the march stopped, as the sounds of the feet ceased. Geltan yelled as loud as he could, the ones who missed the notice would be informed when the whole formation took an unexpected turn. "Our regimental Wizard has fallen unfit, we must re-route our formation! About face!" At that instant a call came from amongst the soldiers.
"But Sir, look yonder!"the voice called with unease.
Geltan did not need to look to know what was behind him, as an ugly, flat, and ill-tuned series of notes bellowed from a horn to his rear. He turned on the spot to see scouting party of Greenskins on the nearing dune--Goblins. It seemed they were closer to the first of the keeps than he had noticed. He saw the keep now to his left, some three-hundred yards away. Captain Geltan looked round feverishly, until he turned to the Boy-Wizard. "How skilled are you with the Lores?!"
"I've barely begun my training sir, this was the first of the field weeks, I have some Academy experience, but sir, not this!" The boy's voice was cracked with utter fear.
In his state of thought, Geltan, ignored the boy and blew his horn once more, bellowing the four notes that signaled impending combat. A small detachment of Imperial scouts had already climbed over the icy slopes to the east to see the Dwarven strong-hold, and were already at Geltan's side with information, as they struggled to regulate their breathing. "Sir! The first keep, it's crawling with them, Greenskins; Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and worse! Sir, the keep looks over-run, and a vast horde is already in nearing distance of our position, never mind the scouts!"
"Ready the Volley-Guns. They will come to us," replied Geltan, gazing forward as the Goblin scouts were being joined by all manner of Greenskin combatants.
"Sir, we have none! These days have been especially rough on our war machines. We've lost all our Volley-Guns and Great-Cannons sir."
"Sigmar smite thee!" He cursed to the air once more.
"We have a few smaller cannons but they'll take some time to wheel into firing range, what with all the bloody snow. We also have three regiments of Handgunners, but I'm not sure that they guns will fire in the frost, sir, I suggest we bring forth the small bands of archers, maybe they could stem the t--"He was cut off by the assertive and barely attentive Captain, who still looked ahead to the Greenskins, squinting.
"Bring forth the Handgunners; have them form their bulk in front of my position!" Geltan yelled to his advisor.
"Yes sir! Handgunners! Form Forward!"
Within minutes the Handgunners were in position, and the entire Imperial army stood ready. Then, like a thunder bolt from a clear sky, came the Greenskin horde, rushing forward.
"Fire!" The handguns ripped the frosty air, sending black plumes of smoky Imperial invention into the air.
"Fire!" they fired once more, a salute to Sigmar, the balls of lead zoomed through the air in lightning-quick succession and undoubtedly tore through the flesh of the foul beasts as some stumbled and fell beneath the trampling charge of their horde.
"Fire!" These were the last shots of the gunners; the Orcs were too close now.
"Handgunners! Fall Back!" On the order, the rest of the more combat-capable Imperial regiments took the place of the retreating gunners. Geltan found himself in the mid-rank of a number of Imperial Great-Swords, flanked by ranks of militia and spearmen.
"Men! Strike fast, hard, and without mercy! This is a day of Sigmar!!! For Sigmar and the Dwarven Kingdoms! Charge!"
The rush of feet was lost among the clash of metal, and the pulse of adrenaline in every soldier of the regiments. The front rank of Militia crashed into the Greenskin front. Bodies flew, spears skewered beasts thrice the size of men, red mists of Human blood splattered the snow as Greenskin cleavers sliced through Imperial limbs, severing them clean. Geltan was found hacking away in a blind desire for victory as soldiers fell among him, and here, when all was done, the bodies would lie, a thousand souls lost in snow.