The strange, almost eerie call echoed again across the valley. Worried glances flickered up and down the painfully thin Dwarf and Elven lines.
The strain was clearly telling on Brommedir, and Aydendorn, his adjutant, knew it.
"Stay with us, man! We need you, damn it! We need you (even if you are deaf as a bloody post...)"
Brommedir seemed to rally a little at the unexpectedly heartfelt outburst from Aydendorn,
"Those... bastards! They're taunting us!"
Now it was Aydendorn's turn to pale as he turned from his fraught commander and happened to glance out of the window. To the North was another Orc column.
"Erm, sir... you couldn't be more wrong. I think they're trying to find out who that lot are over there..."
Hagar Sheol, chieftain of the Severed Hand Tribe was in high spirits. This was a serious cause for concern for his cabal of advisers, lackeys and various hangers-on. As one they ducked and cringed as their great leader spoke,
"Yooz hidden the shiny stuff good and proper 'den?"
Nervous looks were exchanged until one of the smaller Orcs was pushed forward,
"Erm, yez Boss... oof, ouch!"
An almighty clap on the back sent the hapless minion sprawling, while Hagar bared his teeth in a horrible parody of a wide and magnanimous grin,
"Good job, good job! Dat's wot I likes about yoo boys - yoo gets stuff done."
The others nodded and thanked their boss as meekly as possible, so as not to provoke another terrifying display of bonhomie. As luck would have it, Hagar's mood was not to remain as sunny as it was for long.
"Ooooooozzz Yoooooooo! Oooooooooozzzz Yoooooo?!"
As the ululating cry reached the ears of the Severed Hand, Hagar's grin curled into a snarl.
"Bloody Kwae Karrs - shud mind their own bloody business. Anyone can see 'oo we are. 'An dat reminds me - I got a bone or two to pick with dat prat on his fly'in worm. Could 'ave done with him on the other side of dat bridge to give us an 'and crumpin' dem stunties..."
One of his braver flunkies tapped him on the shoulder, duly ducked and gestured to the ruckus that was developing around the distant figure of F'yar and his wyvern,
"I think, Boss, that dere's only going to be 'is bones left, the way that lot are going on."
Hagar's grin returned, much to the chagrin of his little court,
"Well this day jus gets better an' better. No more King tellin' us wot to do. A load of stunties and poncy gits wanting a good bashin' - might even be time after to make some of dem nice and screechy later. Thens we gets to go 'ome wiv plenty of food, not forgetting our lovely loot and all!"
The Elf firing line once more opened up, but presented now with two large targets, they unwisely split their fire. A smattering of arrows fell on the Kwae Karr and Severed Hand columns, but again the the Orcs were literally saved by their tough skins.
The Druid Snart began making his way back to his wounded charges with his two new animal friends in tow, pausing only to shake his fist alternately at the equally incredulous Elves and Orcs.
Back over by the hospital, the more able patients had dragged their insensible comrades to the nearest cart in readiness for the Druid's return.
Hagar Sheol brandished his great battle axe at the defenders of Orc's Drift and his drummer sounded the advance. The main unit of warriors made straight for the barricade and the Elf archers who had dared target them.
Meanwhile, Grashak Kra bounded over the hedge with his hounds in a flanking maneuver, closely followed by the archers.
Glancing surreptitiously back down the road they had marched along, was the now unemployed F'yar Guard. So far the Kwae Karr's had left them alone and the sudden demise of their Overlord hadn't come as an absolute surprise - such was the way of Orcish society. Still, marching at the back of the mob who had just slaughtered the Orc who's face was plastered all over your shield wasn't a good way of getting ahead in life - or so Cole Scuttul thought,
"Don't like this. Don't like this at all..."
"Quit yer moaning - yer want to get us all slotted?"
Chim Neepees had had enough of Scuttul's whining and besides, that kind of talk could get an Orc killed.
"Anyway, we got to get us noticed by the new boss, woss 'e called, Magyar Ironfist - the Iron Guard sounds a bit better than the F'yar Guard don't yer think?"
Indukt Shuneater suddenly piped up at the mention of their newly proposed name,
"Yer - dem things can get awful 'ot..."
The others looked at each other with the usual mix of incomprehension and derision - and kept marching.
The Kwae Karr archers began forming up along the river bank and prepared fire arrows. Instinctively the F'yar Guard ducked as Bagrash gave vent to another fireball spell. This time directed at the hospital in Orc's Drift.
The magic missile soared overhead and shattered into a mass of sparks and dancing rivulets of flame as it engulfed the building.
Things were looking bad for the defenders of Orc's Drift and they weren't about to get better. Another cacophonous chorus of chanting assailed the air, this time from the North West. The Vile Rune Tribe had arrived.
Guthrum Mane paused and raised his misshapen snout a little higher in the air. He grunted in rudimentary pleasure as he sniffed hungrily - there was the hint of something tasty on the wind. Dwarf. Oh how he loved Dwarf - small, crunchy and quite often almost pickled from the inside out with lovely booze.
Fangor Gripe instinctively lashed out at the giant with the flat of his sword.
"No booze till you done yer job, yer big lummox"
He knew what would happen if Guthrum got a whiff of the good stuff - his one ton key would find a nice warm corner somewhere and fall asleep.
The Chieftain cast his critical eye over the remnants of his once proud raiding party. They had made the Elves of Kachas Pass pay but at what cost. That F'yar had a lot to answer for - maybe he'd come to a sticky end, maybe Gripe would provide that sticky end, stick him like tht snivelling little worm, Silas Meel... Gripe roused himself from these pleasant daydreams and addressed his warriors,
"Now then lads, can yer smell 'em yet? That's right - more of them pointy eared gits down in that village. Who's for a bit more of the old cutting and poking then, eh? Besides, if yer wants to eat tonight we need to catch us some meat, and you know what ole' Guthrum here is like when he gets all famished and grumpy..."
The warriors of the Vile Rune Tribe didn't need the point elaborating further.
Dwarfs and Elves came piling out of the burning hospital, coughing and spluttering at the thick black smoke that belched out of the doorway. They quickly formed up in the redoubt the sappers had built, eyes wide and knuckles white with anticipation.
Another great crash from the barricade made the nervous troops jump - Beli and Gymlet had succeeded in overturning the other cart. Elf and Dwarf glanced at each other waiting for the order to stop the vandalism but Brommedir seemed completely unaware of the dangerous gaps opening up in their defences.
The Druid Snart brought up the ox and harnessed it to the front of the cart - it was beginning to look like at least someone would escape with their lives!
The Elves manning the barricade let fly another volley and brought down another Orc warrior. Soon it would be time to cast aside the bow and meet scimitar with sword.
The great horde surged forward on all fronts, the Severed Hand racing for the road to be first into battle.
Grashak Kra and the archers continued their flanking move, slipping in the heavy wet clay of the ploughed field.
To their right the Vile Rune Tribe shambled forwards, whooping and thrashing the air with their spears.
A great whooshing noise, as of a swarm of angry bees, signalled the first answering volley of the Kwae Karr archers. Their flaming arrows arced over the teeming masses of Orc warriors to land amid the smoldering rafters of the hospital. Another gout of flame from Bagrash further fanned the flames licking up from the stricken building.
The Dwarf sappers, seeing that the Brommedir was unwilling or possibly even unaware of the holes in their outer defences, took action. Leaping over the redoubt wall they began furiously digging ditches to further frustrate the impending Orc assault.
Heaving the dead weight of Lars Breth into the waiting cart, Bertolac and Fernbreth wiped the sweat from their brow. They were nearly home and dry and only suffering slight pangs of guilt at leaving their brothers-in-arms behind. Well someone had to warn the city guard in Palesandre...
Their eyes stinging and weeping from the billows of acrid smoke pouring from the raging inferno that was now the hospital, the Elf archers again only stopped a single Orc in its headlong charge towards the wall.
With an almighty howl, Magyar Ironfist and his surviving warriors beat their weapons against their shields. Now the bloody business of revenge would begin. As one they surged forward and crashed into the thin red line.
Behind them the rest of the column continued maneuvering into position. The Kwae Karr archers and Bagrash moved forwards, evil eyes alert for any exposed defenders to pick off.
The Severed Hand were forced to make way for the remaining Kwae Karr column as it marched past with many a jeer and catcall, headed for the main entrance to the village.
Ozrim and his Dwarf sappers began to look somewhat exposed as the main Orc thrust became apparent. The Severed hand Archers and hounds sprang forward to link up with the Vile Rune Orcs, also bearing down on the Grand League's North flank.
Eyeing the approaching Orcs suspiciously, Ozrim turned to Oswen,
"Looks like the old Tusks of the Boar trick don't it. See the fracas over there by the wall - that's just a feint. Stopped those Elves from shooting up their columns hasn't it."
Heartened by the admiring looks offered by his sappers, Ozrim went on,
"Yes, well, you see here - this mob bearing down on us. They'll be one of the boar tusks - part of the main encircling movement that characterises a typical Orc attack. I'd wager a barrel of Bugman's Best that there'll be another "tusk" working its way round our extreme right flank - hope old Broomhead has got it covered. Jolly simple, eh?"
The looks of admiration had somewhat frozen on the faces of his comrades and were slowly being replaced with the pale mask of terror. A timorous voice piped up,
"Erm, sir - wouldn't that be jolly deadly too..."