“The Battle of Bramblewood”

by Merric Blackman

“The Battle of Bramblewood” is copyright 1994 Merric Blackman. Permission is granted to distribute and copy this document for non-profit purposes.

Being the third part of the “Fall of the Forest” cycle.

Dawn has not yet come to the Bramblewood, but the Guardians of its borders are already awake and manning their posts. All know that the Beast is coming, and will not be stopped.

The Defender of the Forests has gone to meet him, but none expect the Defender to triumph. The chill grip of fear holds the Guardians of the Great Forest, as they await the battle to come.

A long time ago, when the Great Forest was newly settled by the refugees from Argoth, the seeress Kethyr uttered a prophecy. All now know that the time of the prophecy has come, but it brings no comfort to those who wait, for there is little hope contained in its words.

The leader of the Guardians walks around the battlefield to be, checking on the disposition of his soldiers. He is their General, Tysche Caladorn of House Taliressal, and knows full well of what now comes towards his men. But he smiles and jokes with those he sees, concealing the dread growing in his heart.

Finding himself alone, he allows his fears to show. “Where is he?” he mutters to himself, “What happened at the falls?” He worries for his old friend, for no word has come of the ELF’s battle with the Beast.

The shimmering of the air before him alerts Tysche to the casting of a spell of communication. The shimmering resolves into the form of a lovely elven maiden, dressed in flowing robes of the darkest green, with deep sadness filling her eyes. “Guardian Caladorn?” speaks the maiden softly.

“I can hear you, Larissa,” replies the Guardian. “How fare you?” He meets her eyes, and once more is lost in their beauty. But there is no time for gentler talk. The Beast is coming.

“Well enough, for the moment,” replies the elf-maid. “I traveled to the Dwarves of the Ghavron Mountains on our master’s command, and they now travel to your aid, bringing their best men and their war-beasts. They also prepare the tunnels to bring our people to safety if need be.”

“Have you any word of your master?” asks Caladorn, but only sees the sadness in Larissa’s eyes deepen. Her head bows as she replies.

“No. He fought with the Beast, but…” Larissa’s voice catches for a moment, but then she resumes.

“I believe he is still alive,” says Larissa, “but only just. I cannot contact him. The Beast must have hurt him severely. But he has bought us enough time. The Dwarves will reach us before the Beast does. Are the Guardians in place?”

“Indeed they are, Larissa. You have hope?”

“We must have hope. Else why should we live?”

Tysche nods at the truth in her words. “You are correct, of course. And now?”

“I shall co-ordinate the spell-weavers from here, the Heart of the Forest. We shall channel all the energy we can muster to your Guardians. But without Morgan and our Master… the fight will be hard. Good luck, my love.”

“Good luck, Larissa. And start the evacuation. We cannot lose any time.” Tysche holds up his hand in a parting gesture dating from the Fall of Argoth. “May we yet meet again, ‘tween mountains and the sea.”

Larissa’s voice trembled, but she completed the ancient farewell. “Where we shall dance and laugh and sing, in forests strong and free.” Her image shimmers and vanishes. Tysche turns, and makes his way back to the Guardians.

* * *

The scouts have reported the first sightings of the enemy. From the Dark Lands come Ooze Demons and Murk Dwellers, spawn of the Beast. Their initial foray into the Bramblewood meets with defeat, as the Guardians trick them into the walls made of the brambles which give the wood its name. Many of the demons expire there, but the danger is not over yet.

Tysche rides a faerie steed though a group of demons which have evaded the walls, launching wooden darts of surprising potency at their bodies. Many react with surprise and laugh at the puny missiles, but the darts are covered with the Demonsbane poison, and die in shock. But the venom’s supply is limited. Only Tysche’s band of Riders have it in their possession, and the battle will go harder elsewhere.

But the first attack has been beaten off. Tysche’s men allow themselves a small moment of triumph before resuming their positions. None have yet fallen, but several are injured, and healers walk through the lines, treating the wounded.

Tysche, while examining the walls, worries to himself. He cannot discern the Beast’s location, and he feels sure that he should be able to once it reaches the borders of the Bramblewood. He fears that it has out-manuevered him somewhere, and calls for one of his scouts.

Sending the scout off to search for some signs of the enemy leader, Tysche moves around the other Guardians, congratulating them on their brave defense. Soon, more noise can be heard from the northwest. He smiles as he recognizes the strains of a dwarven battle chant. The Dwarves of the Ghavron Mountains have reached them, and hope flickers in Tysche’s breast.

When the dwarves arrive, their leader comes to Tysche, who greets him warmly. But there is no time for pleasantries, and soon they are engaged in planning the coming battle.

The next wave of the Spawn of the Beast is preceded with a cloud of darkness, which confuses and demoralizes the defenders. But Durruck, the Dwarven Warchief, sounds on his horn a long note, to which his men cheer. They start up their war-chant, the sound of which should make any living foe’s blood chill in fear. But their foes are no longer living.

Tearing and ripping sounds indicate that the walls of brambles have come under attack. Several of the Guardians move to instill life-force into the brambles, regenerating them. Not all are successful–something hidden in the enemy lines taunts them with mystical power. Unable to resist, they run towards the unseen foe and are torn apart by the demons the Beast has summoned.

Tysche raises his crystal blade, and singing an ancient melody, leaps into the fray with the rest of the Riders. The blade glows with faerie magick as it cleaves apart the bodies of the demons which come against him. He slays many of the spawn of the Beast, and they retreat in terror from his fury. Tysche, taking advantage of the lull in the attack calls his Riders back to the shelter of the Bramblewood. When he arrives back, he finds that some have perished, lost to the hordes. He weeps inwardly, and vows to avenge them.

Warchief Durruck comes to him, grinning broadly. “We got them, running like rabbits, they were!” Durruck says. Tysche smiles back, “All in retreat?”

“Looked like it, Caladorn. No spine in them at all!”

Elven scouts bring messages of triumph from all fronts, but as Tysche considers the reports in his mind, an alarming fact is revealed: three scouts have not reported back. Reaching through the life-web of the Great Forest, he finds no trace of their essences. He tells Durruck of the news.

Durruck is concerned, and marshals up a party of his dwarves to move towards the part of the forest where they vanished. Tysche accompanies the dwarves with his remaining Riders. The other Guardians remain on duty, guarding their sections of the forest.

The Vale of Singing had once been one of the most beautiful places in the Great Forest. On every Midsummer’s Night, the inhabitants of the Great Forest would gather in the Vale, and sing throughout the night, giving thanks to the Earthmother. Crystalline spires in the Vale vibrated in sympathy with the songs, and created a beauty unlike anything else in the world. Few outsiders had ever witnessed it, but those who did were changed forever. Taladae, Bard of Crevan was one of those who heard the music, and never was able to fully describe it: “The night of crystal stars is filled with songs of joy and life / Which I do weep to hear, for knowing all my life fulfilled / And never can the melodies I hear be script for all to share / For only the barest shadow of their glory shall be shown.”

But the Vale is gone now. The spires of crystal are broken and blackened, and a huge figure strides through the Vale, destroy all which is not yet lost.

Durruck looks at Tysche, Tysche looks at Durruck. No words are needed. The warriors make their way down into the Vale, hoping to ambush the Beast. They reach positions of readiness, and charge their foe.

But the figure lifts up its head, and though sight is dimmed, and senses fail, Tysche believes he sees it smile, a mocking grin of triumph. And then cries of pain come from his companion. His steed loses its footing in ground become suddenly soft, and as he struggles to aid it, Tysche stares in horror at the land about him, as trees fall or are stunted and twisted be the dark magic of it that laughs before him. A choking sensation rises within him, and he feels ill and nauseous. But he draws upon the blessing of the Earthmother and thrusts the sickness off him. His steed regains its footing upon one of the shattered spires. Tysche looks around, to see the plight of his allies.

And he sees no-one. All he hears is the soft sucking of the swamp the vale has changed into, as it claims the bodies of his friends. A cold fury grips him, and he faces the enemy. “You have not slain me, Beast!” he cries. “I still live! But I shall slay you!” And he rides towards the Beast, his sword glittering in the pale light of dawn.

The figure has not counted on Tysche surviving its attack, and stands defenseless. But as Tysche begins a killing blow, he looks upon the face of that he thought the Beast, and his arm falters. “Galariel?” he asks, unbelieving, for it is the servant of the Earthmother who stands before him. The ELF had often consulted with the servant when Tysche was present, and he believes he knows him. But the Beast’s magicks have corrupted Galariel, and Tysche is undone.

Tysche’s attack fails, as he stares upon the countenance of Galariel. And Galariel takes full advantage of that hesitation, hitting Tysche’s head with a heavy fist. Tysche’s helm is broken by the attack, and he falls from his steed. The last thing he hears is the laughter of Galariel, servant of the Beast, before darkness overtakes him.