IPTSF Text 12
"Well, how many times are we going to say that, Fritz?" Tommy asked in exasperation. "We both say 'it seems too good to be true' and 'I smell a trap,' and yet we just keep marching forward, same as we planned."
"I know." The big red warlord had his hands on his hips, scowling up the road as camp was being broken. A light snow was falling, and the fir trees beside the road whispered in the wind.
"So what do you want to do, Fritz? Tell me."
Wanda watched the big warlord take a few aimless steps into the snow of the road, stop, run his hand through his short red hair, and blow out his cheeks. Fritz had been pacing and stomping around, all through Haffaton's turn. For the second day in a row, their pace toward Kiloton remained unchallenged. Now their entire force was a single turn from the target, their scouts still reported no major forces ahead, and saw no defenders on the great city's walls. Haffaton's turn had just ended without an attack on any Goodminton target, anywhere.
Fritz looked up at Tommy and braided his single red eyebrow helplessly. "I... want to win!" he exclaimed.
Tommy laughed. "Well get on your bronto, then! D'be a fine thing if we turned around now, just because we weren't attacked. Who wins a battle that way?" He laughed again.
"With peace?" said Wanda quietly, "Perhaps a Hippiemancer."
Wanda had not told him what Delphie had Predicted about her serving under Olive Branch. She was too afraid he or Father might change their minds about trading her for a treaty, if they knew. But he did know that Haffaton had made their peace offer via a high-level Florist.
Tommy looked at her seriously. "You think she's in the field? What can she do?"
Fritz stepped closer to them. "D'you think that's what they're counting on to defend Kiloton?"
Wanda shook her head. "I don't know. I don't think Hippiemancers are that powerful, but... maybe."
"There's a lot we don't know," said Tommy. "We don't know if they have any other casters, either. We don't know what kind of thing they might be planning to spring on us.
"Or," added Tommy brightly, "maybe they're just in trouble on their other front and we caught them at a weak moment. But we've decided to fight this enemy. We can't get spooked at what might yet be simple good fortune. Let's carry on."
Kiloton was all but deserted. The outer gates were shut, but no defenders stood on high to shoot down at them or otherwise hinder their efforts to dig into the city. From what they could see of the Garrison zone, Haffaton's colors flew from a banner atop a black onion dome that was frosted with snow.
Chief Tommy ordered the walls breached, and that was done with ease.
Within, the streets and buildings of the enemy citadel were similarly deserted. Row upon row of buildings made of granite blocks, adorned with black marble at the eaves and corners, stared blankly at their intrusion. But they did get their first glimpse of enemy units at last. Small figures were manning some of the towers and parapets of the Garrison. Not an impressive force, by any means.
"That a warlord in the tower?" pointed Fritz. A tiny head wearing a fur cap over long golden hair looked over the railing of the highest tower. It was surely feminine, and carrying something like a heavy crossbow.
"Caster, maybe," squinted Tommy.
Wanda looked up at the figure and shivered, but added nothing.
The archers upon the enemy parapets watched them approach in silence, their bowstrings slack. Goodminton's three hundred infantry, three siege towers, four warlords, twenty-two heavies and one caster advanced on the enemy stronghold. The towers were wheeled to the great wooden doors of the Garrison, with diggers at the ready.
Men and beasts stood unnaturally still, and within the city there was not even the sound of wind. Tommy looked at Wanda, then at Fritz, and turned to give the order to attack.
He looked up. They all did.
The figure in the tower was employing the apparatus they all had assumed was a weapon, but in fact it was a stringed instrument. She plucked and strummed upon it, and even from so far away, they could hear it perfectly. The music took an otherworldly, magical route to their ears.
"This is the trap," Fritz stated with certainty. He was leading his own stack just to the left of where Wanda and Tommy stood with the strongest of the uncroaked units. More of the Fellows stood nearby, in reserve.
"Attack! Siege, dig in!" shouted Tommy. The diggers followed the order at once, but most of them swung their axes and shovels upon empty space.
For the Garrison doors were opening, pulled inward from behind. The portcullis was being drawn up.
On the other side of the archway, a force of infantry and warlords at least equal to their own stood assembled in formation in the courtyard. Their weapons were not drawn.
They were all, to the last man, smiling.
The music played, trickling down from above. Intermingled with the notes of the strange instrument, a sweet voice, high and feminine, sang:
- You're marchin' off to war - man you don't wanna go,
- You ask your Chief "Please?" but he still says "No!"
- You missed two battles and broke the One Rule.
- And your warlord leads the army like you're some kinda tool!
Wanda saw fear in her brother's eyes, as he struggled to speak. He was trying to give an attack order, but she somehow did not realize this until he physically charged into the courtyard himself. She and her uncroaked followed close behind.
The enemy did not move. Tommy raised his sword, charging into the Haffaton ranks. The Fellows raised their weapons as well.
Tommy's sword came down upon his target like a feather. He merely tapped the shoulder of the soldier with the flat of his blade, as if knighting him. Wanda's units similarly failed to engage the enemy. Tommy's eyes were wide. More Goodminton units crushed in behind them, trying to meet the enemy and failing.
Wanda stepped up to a smiling infantryman and looked him in the eye. She was armed with a quarterstaff which gave her a very small spell bonus. She had spent all too little time training with it as a melee weapon, but she swung it at the enemy unit regardless.
As if in a dream, she could not swing it with any significant force. The staff moved as if she were trying to stir honey with it.
For a few more moments, futile attempts to engage the enemy continued. The enemy stood in ranks and watched them with amusement, while the music played from above.
Finally, a Haffaton warlord stepped forward to face Tommy. He was grinning.
"No combat is possible in this city," he said, as if telling a funny joke. "Dame Branch has played her chillaxe." He pointed up at the tower, where the smiling blond woman was strumming and singing. Tommy looked dumbfounded. "But... we do have lots of wine. Shall we parley?"
- You gotta fight!
- For your right!
- To paaaarley!