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"What in the world is that wretched stench?" the old man grumbled, covering his nose with a hand.
Al pointed off to the southwest, a short distance from the town border. "That mound of fresh dirt out there is where they burned and buried the beasts' corpses after the attack. They covered it up after the fire, but it'll probably smell for a few days."
The old man grunted, but didn't say any more. Instead he took the reigns of all three work horses and headed toward the stables at the back of the Scholar's Inn. Al and Anna hurried to the town square, where they could see a large group already coalescing. Townsfolk ranging from young children to the elderly were spread around in front of the podium at one end of the lawn. Al recognized farmers from all over the island scattered amongst the crowd, including those who never came to town except to sell their harvest.
Small groups carried on their own conversations while the mayor Caine stood beside the podium arguing with Malic. More people continued to wander in from all directions until the town square was nearly filled with bodies. When the influx of townsfolk had slowed to a trickle, Caine broke off his heated conversation with Malic and stepped up to the podium.
"Citizens of Moonglow..." he began, surveying the crowd, "friends...What happened yesterday was a tragedy. A horror. Our peaceful town was attacked unprovoked, and many good people died defending their homes and their families."
Al looked around and saw some of those families - new widows and widowers, children orphaned overnight. Some families Al knew weren't present at all. Al had found out the previous night that more than the one ogre he'd found in his workshop had strayed from the attacking party. One of the farms Al had visited last night had been burnt to the ground, the people who lived there brutally slaughtered. He shuddered to recall it.
Caine's speech continued. "The attack yesterday was not a simple raid. The ogres were not here for food and plunder. They were led by humans. They were led by the Minaxians." Mention of that word provoked some angry shouts. Caine went on. "We thought the factions were done here, we thought we were safe from their plotting, their conniving, their war. We were wrong." More angry shouts.
"What can we do?" a man near the front cried out. Al recognized him as the town baker, though no name came to mind. "What if they attack again?"
"We fight!" Malic answered from off to the left with a shout of his own. "We prepare!"
"Bah!" the man answered back. "This isn't Trinsic or Britain. We're not a fighting town! We're farmers and craftsman, peaceful people. The Mages are the ones who should be fighting, the ones who should be dying for their accursed war. If we try to fight, we'll all end up dead."
"If we don't fight, we'll all end up dead," Caine broke in. "So many died yesterday because we put our faith in the Council of Mages, because we believed that they would protect us. We were wrong. We can't afford to rely on outsiders anymore. It's time we stood our own ground! Reighley's right - we're not a fighting town. But that can change. Circumstances force us to change. What happens when the Minaxians do attack again? We will be prepared. We will have to be prepared. And we won't rely on the Council of Mages anymore!" A few cheers of agreement went up, but just as many groans and complaints were voiced.
"How do we defend a town like this without the Mages?" a voice pleaded from the back of the crowd. "How are we to stop a charge of ogres? What if there are more next time? What then?"
"Well, to start, we build a wall all the way around town. No more fence, it's time for a real wall. Anything trying to get in will have to get past that. And we line that wall with a row of pikes sticking out of the ground and pointing away from the fence. Monster and man alike will no longer charge our town in mass." Al noticed heads nodding throughout the crowd.
"Further," Caine went on," we'll build platforms inside the wall for men to stand on. We can fight off anything that comes too close, and fire arrows from above. We'll stop any attackers in their tracks, and force them to fight on our terms." More nods.
"However, that's not all. I'm hereby establishing an official town watch. Samuel has agreed to head it up and organize it. Each able man on the island will take a regular turn at the watch, patrolling the roads and nearby woods. If we're attacked again, the watch will get back to town to warn people and sound the town bell as an alarm. When the attackers get to the gates, we'll be ready and waiting."
"Ready to do what?" the baker Reighley spoke up again. "None of us can wield a sword. How do we fight off an ogre or troll once it gets up to the wall? Pikes won't keep them out forever."
Caine nodded. "You're right. Few of us have any experience as soldiers. But many of us have hunted these woods and shot a bow once or twice. Most of us have swung an axe to make firewood."
"That's not the same," Reighley countered.
"Indeed it's not," Malic broke in before Caine could reply. "Which is why I've decided to start training people to fight. I spent four years in the Orc Wars, and served in Lord British's army for two decades after that. I can turn a farmer into a warrior in no time at -"
"Yes, yes," Caine stopped him. "And Alaric has also agreed to teach archery to anyone who wishes to learn how to use a bow. He and Malic will meet here at the town square each evening for the next month to train anyone who comes. If the Minaxians dare to attack again, we will be ready!" The crowd cheered.
"For now, though," he started up again as the cheers died down, "we have work to do. The fires at the eastern gate caused a lot of damage that needs to be repaired. The roof of the smithy needs to be rebuilt as well, and we plan to construct a watchtower on top of it to aid the town watch." Caine picked out two groups of people to start on those jobs, and they departed to begin their respective tasks. "Everyone else will help with the new wall, and that means chopping lumber." He nodded in Al's direction. "Al has agreed to lead that project."
"Look out!" came a shout from behind Al. He twisted around to see a massive tree falling straight toward him. He ran and dove to the side, and a split second later the tree met the ground with a thunderous crash, the nearest large branch not three feet from him.
Dusting his clothes off after pulling himself to his feet, Al turned to face the direction the shout had come from. Standing at the stump of what had moments ago been a whole tree was Jonathan the provisioner, his eyes wide as saucers.
Al just shook his head as Jonathan approached. "Oh no, Al, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean -"
"It's okay Jon, but you've got to be more careful. That's the second time you've nearly killed someone with your carelessness! Remember what I told you about angling your cuts, and for goodness sake, make sure no one's in the area when it falls!"
Al sighed. Jonathan wasn't the only one who had been careless during the week they had been out felling trees. How am I supposed to get this wall finished when no one will listen to me? Al complained to himself. Bah, it's not their fault. They're not lumberjacks. They're doing their best, and we've come pretty far for one week.
He shifted his gaze townward. They had come pretty far. The foundations of the wall already surrounded all but part of the north end of town, and here at the bigger south gate the wall itself was starting to go up. Eight feet tall, they had decided, with the platforms behind it five feet off the ground. It would be a while before the pikes were made and placed, but Lorn the weaponsmith was already starting to produce them, with the help of Samuel and a couple others. Lorn had designed them to be about five feet long, sticking out at an angle half way between the ground and the wall and ending in a simple wooden spearpoint. Simple, but effective. Al couldn't wait to see the final wall when it was completed. We still have a lot of work to be done before that, he thought to himself. I just hope we aren't attacked again in the meantime...
He spent a few minutes tutoring Jonathan - again - on the proper technique for chopping down a large tree. When he was satisfied Jonathan understood and wouldn't make the same mistake again, Al moved on to the next site, outside the southeast corner of town. There he found William Brighton helping Serevon take down a huge old pine.
Will was the only one in Moonglow aside from Al who had substantial lumberjacking experience. He'd been a great help to Al this past week, helping supervise and teach all the townsfolk who had come to work. Thanks to his assistance, the initial lumber had been taken down much quicker than expected, and many of the workers from the first few days were now in town processing the wood and working on the wall. Only twenty or so men were still actively cutting down trees, and aside from an occasional slipup like Jonathan's they were learning fast and working effectively.
Al watched Will and Serevon finish the tree from a safe distance, casting them an approving nod. Serevon smiled and waved, and Al returned the wave before moving on to the next site. On his way, he spotted Pyrram leading two of his work horses in the opposite direction, on the way to pick up prepared logs. The old man looked exhausted, and the horses weren't in much better condition.
"Hey there, Pyrram," he began, grabbing a canteen of water from his belt and tossing it toward the man. "It's been a long day, why don't you finish up the next load and then stop. It'll be evening soon, and Reighley will have a bunch of food ready for us." Reighley wasn't a very muscular man, so he'd been unable to help out with the lumberjacking. Instead, he'd been limited to smaller duties, and he tried to make up for it by spending every evening baking up a feast's worth of food for the other workers.
Pyrram took a long swig from the canteen and grunted. "There's still a good hour and a half of sunlight left, and I'm not stopping until I can't see the ground in front of my feet!" He threw the canteen back to Al, and started the horses on their way again. "Thanks for the water, though."
Al merely shook his head, then started toward town. That old man is more stubborn than his horses sometimes! He's been working for nine hours straight, and he still won't quit. Of course, Al himself had been out working for four hours more than that. During the days, he spent half his time supervising rather than hefting his axe, and he felt bad about it. So he had been getting up each day before the sun rose, and taking down a number of trees on his own before anyone else arrived. With the nightly training from Malic in the town square, it all left Al weary and depleted by nighttime. But they were making progress, real progress, and before long the town of Moonglow would be a sight to behold.
As he passed through the east gate - or rather, what used to be the east gate and soon would be again - he spied a couple figures out on the town square. It was Alaric the bowyer and Anna, both with bows in hand, aiming at a target across the lawn. As Anna noticed Al approach, she put down her bow and strolled over to him.
"Hello," she spoke, a smile adorning her face. "How's the work going out there?" She had been working inside town the last few days helping rebuild the fire-damaged tailor shop near the east gate.
"Good," he responded, returning the smile, "though it's a wonder no one's been crushed by a falling tree."
She laughed a little. "Was it Malic this time, or Jonathan?" She'd been around for the accidents on that first day, and she'd surely heard of Malic's second incident when he'd sent a tree falling right into the side of a small cabin outside the west gate. The damage had been relatively minimal, but the incident had made Malic the laughing stock of town for a couple days.
"Jonathan. He's trying his best, though. Just not meant to be a lumberjack," he shrugged.
Alaric had finished retrieving arrows from the target and now came over to join the conversation.
"Hey, Al. Did she tell you about our plan?"
"Plan?" Al inquired.
"Aye," Alaric responded. "Anna's twice the shot I am, and then some." Anna tried to mask a proud smile. "She's going to help me train the new archers."
"That's a wonderful idea," Al said. "With you two in charge, thi..." but his words trailed off as he spotted something strange outside of town through the foundation posts for the south wall. The workers who had been finishing up their labor for the night all stopped in their tracks as they noticed the same thing Al had seen. A shimmering blue oval had grown from the ground and was slowing its spin to a stop. A magical gate. Oh no, Al thought. Not now. Not yet!
Anna and Alaric both turned to see what had caught his attention. In moments, Anna had her bow in her hand and Alaric was moments behind her. Men at the gates cried out "Attack! Attack!" and scrambled.
Before anything else could happen, a woman on horseback came trotting through the gate. She wore a green robe, and the gate winked shut behind her. Anna lowered her bow, glancing over at Al. "Council mage," she said flatly. Al let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding. The commotion around the gate had died down by the time the rider entered town, but some of the workers still held the an axe or shovel and eyed the rider wearily.
The woman slowed her horse's gait as she approached Al's group. She seemed oblivious to the reaction her entrance had provoked. She swung her haughty gaze toward Alaric and coldly spoke. "Where is your mayor?"
Alaric glanced to Al, then Anna, then back to the mage. He began to motion towards Caine's house a ways behind the inn on the west side of the town square, but noticed that Caine was already coming out. Apparently he had heard the cries of alarm. By the time he reached the group, a small crowd was beginning to gather nearby and watch on.
"Greetings," Caine spoke, bowing his head to the newcomer.
"Are you the mayor?" she asked bluntly after dismounting.
"Indeed, my name is Caine. To what do we owe -"
She cut him off. "What is going on here?" She waved a hand in the direction of the partially-constructed wall she had passed on her way into the town.
"Defenses," he answered, "in case Moonglow is attacked again."
The mage snorted. "So you're building a barrier to keep out ogres, hmm? You should have passed this by the Council of Mages first. We use our power to protect Moonglow - these decisions are as much ours to make as yours."
Alaric began to break in, anger plain on his face, but Al shook his head and touched the man's arm. Alaric closed his mouth, but the burning rage didn't leave his eyes. Al shared some of that anger, but there were times to speak and times to keep quiet.
"Still," the mage continued, failing to notice or else simply ignoring Alaric's response, "it is a good idea, and I'm sure the Council Elders will approve of it. But in the future, contact us before you make any...rash decisions."
Approve it, will they? he thought. It's not their decision to approve! Those arrogant mages and their arrogant Elders - it's not their families that are dying! He kept his thoughts to himself, however.
"At any rate," the woman said, "that is not why I came here. I was sent to speak with you about the recent reagent crop."
Caine furrowed his brows. "Huh? Oh, oh, yes, the crop. I'd forgotten about it." At that, the mage's eyes widened with surprise, the first emotion other than smug disdain that she had shown since arriving.
"Well, come with me," he motioned toward the Scholar's Inn, and the woman followed with her mount in tow. A stable boy came out from the stables behind the inn and took her horse, then Caine led her into the inn.
"The nerve!" Alaric shouted, turning toward Al. His voice was a mix of disbelief and exasperated ire. "The innocent victims of their damned faction conflicts are in the grave less than a week and that bitch is worried about her damned crop?! Those mages care nothing for us! The Council would turn us over to Minax herself if they thought it would get them more reagents!"
The words rang true to Al, but he tried to pacify Alaric nonetheless. "Calm down, my friend. Calm down. Save that rage for the real fights."
Alaric stood in silence, visibly struggling to quell his anger. Anna broke the tension by handing him a quiver of arrows sitting nearby.
"Let's get back to work for now," she said. "The trainees will be here pretty soon."
Al left the two of them shooting longbows, and made his way over to the other side of the lawn where Malic had just arrived with his own training gear. Al kept his composure on the outside, but inside he was boiling as much as Alaric had been. It was going to be a night for rough sparring.