Afternoon, Day 13
The air tasted like burnt wood and scorched iron. Artur's eyes hurt just from being open. His limbs were dead from fatigue, and his back ached from leaning against the wooden barricade for too long. He could hear Marthin and Rohn gasping for breath as they dashed into cover behind the makeshift wall. They'd lost their shields, and had crossbows slung over their shoulders. Their swords were sheathed. They hadn't dared risk close combat.
'Nothing,' Marthin said, shaking his head. 'Nobody out there but the enemy.'
'Time we left the gate to them,' Rohn said. 'It's been two days since they took it and dug themselves in. You'd think we could find a better place to defend the city from.' Artur nodded. 'Back to the guardhouse. There's no more reason for us to be here.'
They gathered up what was left of their gear and set off. From the blackened, twisted remains of the northern gate, a streak of fire shot out and blasted through a shop window. Artur and the other two Lumbridgians hurled themselves to the cobbles of the street as glass fragments showered over them. 'Damn,' Artur said as they picked themselves up. 'He's back.'
'He' was a northerner shaman that the enemy had brought up after the gate fell. Artur had asked what the difference was between a shaman and a wizard, and what he learned was that they were essentially the same, only the shamans of the wild men had no discipline and were far more violent. That shaman was partly why he and the remaining Lumbridgians were in favour of a retreat. They weren't prepared for this sort of thing.
It took ten minutes of picking through the rubble-strewn streets before they reached the guardhouse. There were only twenty men left of those who had originally been assigned to defend the gate. The others were either dead or had been pulled back to defensive positions closer to the Palace. Those who stayed were to find other survivors, harry the enemy, then make it back alive. Except for Artur, Rohn and Marthin, they were all Varrockians.
Lechtmann was standing guard at the small barricade they had set up outside. He waved them in. 'Anything?' he asked as they passed through the makeshift gate.
'No,' Artur said. 'We should go. That shaman's back.'
'Tell the others,' Lechtmann said. 'I'll keep watch.'
'We didn't hold the gate for very long,' Artur said as the other two went inside. 'We might have underestimated this enemy.'
Lechtmann shrugged. 'We managed to keep a lot of soldiers alive to fight another day. We're retreating now, but as long as we fight, the battle's not lost. Just you wait. We will push this enemy out of our city.'
'They have us outnumbered and surrounded, and I hear there's only a few wizards left in the city to match all their shamans. We don't have much chance.'
Lechtmann sniffed. He glanced over the barricade, then said, 'So what?'----------------------------
They were two blocks away from the Varrockians' new defensive line when the enemy found them. Twenty northmen and thirty goblins, moving quietly down a side-street, had spotted the survivors as they crept through a ruined building. The enemy was spread out, and covered all the exits. There was no running from this fight.
In the first exchange of missile fire, they lost one of the Varrockian halberdiers, and another was wounded. Artur helped drag the man into cover behind a ruined wall, and saw enough of the other side of the street to see that they had managed to bring down three of the enemy.
'How did they get so far into the city?' Rohn asked as he helped staunch the wounded Varrockian's bleeding. 'There's fifty of them! You can't just sneak that many in without anyone noticing.'
'Don't ask me,' Artur said. 'This might be more of their trickery and magic at work.'
'Pray it isn't,' Marthin said as he loosed a bolt and began reloading his pilfered crossbow. 'The odds are against us as it is.'
'Good thing we found them here, though,' a blue-eyed Varrockian said as he came up to the wall and began shooting.
'Why's that?' Rohn asked. 'I can't see what's good about running into fifty bloodthirsty savages while we're busy running away.'
'Look at the way they were going,' the Varrockian said as he hooked his weapon to his belt and began reloading. 'If we were ten minutes too slow, they would have caught us at the guardhouse.'
'There's the bright side, I suppose,' Artur said. An arrow zipped overhead and shattered against a wall. 'How do we plan to get out of this one?' The Varrockian shrugged, and loosed another bolt.
Lechtmann hurried over, keeping his head below the tops of the ruined walls. He gestured to the three Lumbridgians. 'There's a small gap in their line to the left, over there,' he pointed. The Lumbridgians nodded to let him know they could see it. 'If we can keep their heads down,' Lechtmann said, 'could you three and a couple of our lads head out there and stir things up a bit? This might be the only way out of this mess. You get stuck in and keep them busy while we push up and hit their flank.'
'That sounds a bit risky,' Rohn said. Lechtmann clapped him on the shoulder.
'Better than sitting here and waiting to get shot to pieces, eh?'
'I'll lead the way,' Artur said. 'I've got a shield. You lads keep us covered.'
There were three Varrockian halberdiers with them as they charged out. It seemed to take forever to cross the narrow street, with arrows and quarrels whistling past them from either side. Artur could feel arrows thudding into his shield.
Then they were on the other side of the street. The enemy had set themselves up in narrow alleys, smashed storefronts and behind overturned stalls. Artur's group immediately set about themselves, creating havoc as they began to slaughter the poorly armoured goblin archers nearby. Artur was midway through pulling his sword out of the goblin he had slain when he noticed some of the wild northmen running over to support their allies. The others must have noticed them, too, because they finished their opponents quickly and formed up to repel the northerners' charge. Somewhere in the distance, a horn sounded.
Artur received the first northman's charge, his shield cutting the wild man's momentum just as his sword cut the man's belly open. The others were not so lucky. One of the Varrockians fell, his head caved in by a large mace. Rohn fell, screaming, his left arm severed at the elbow. Artur and the others were being forced back into the wall of a jeweller's shop, hopelessly outnumbered. There was a cry from across the street, and Artur spared a glance to see that the others were being overrun by the remainder of the enemy's forces. The distraction gave his opponent an opening, and Artur fell to the ground. His helm had turned an axe aside so that it wouldn't take his head off, but the impact had knocked him aside. He rolled to his feet, avoiding the second blow from the axe by mere inches. The third was taken on his shield, where the axe stuck fast. Artur stepped forward and pushed to the side, forcing the northman off balance and putting his sword through the man's ribs. He recovered quickly enough to avoid the next northman's blade, but another had come in from his right, and his sword was knocked out of his hand. Defending himself with his shield, he ducked down and picked up the fallen northman's axe, and faced his two opponents warily. He was aware that his back was almost to the wall, and there was nowhere left to run. The two northmen advancd slowly. They had seen him slay two of their fellows. They were taking no chances.
A third northman joined them.
This is it, Artur thought. At least I can die on my feet.
His shield took the first attack without a problem. The second attack struck his shield and broke his left arm. Artur cried out in pain as he moved his axe to parry the third. He dodged the fourth and his chainmail stopped the fifth, but the sixth was a kick that broke his right knee. He rolled to avoid the seventh and eighth attacks, and the ninth attack sent the axe spinning out of his hand. The tenth struck him a glancing blow on the head, and he blacked out for a second.
The eleventh attack never came.
His three opponents lay dead or dying on the ground. One was missing his head. The second was face-down with the broken half of a lance in his back. The third was busy being trampled under the hooves of a huge black warhorse. The plate-armoured rider saluted him with his sword.
Vision blurred, Artur saw the crest of Kandarin on the knight's shield as he dismounted. 'Are you alright?' the knight asked as he knelt over Artur.
Eyes closed and bleeding from a head wound, Artur could not answer.