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Thraxas Under Siege
By Martin Scott
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2006 Martin Scott
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Turai is doomed," says old Parax the shoemaker. He never was the most optimistic of men.
"Turai will survive," declares Gurd. "No damned Orc is chasing me out of this city."
He looks to me for support. I shrug. I don't know if we're going to survive or not. With our own army defeated, an Orcish army somewhere outside the walls, and no help on the way, it's hard to be too optimistic. Last month we suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Prince Amrag, Orcish overlord. He took us completely by surprise, trapping and destroying our forces outside the city walls. We hadn't expected an attack in winter. The city authorities ignored the warnings of Lisutaris, head of the Sorcerers Guild, and we paid the price.
Despite their success, the Orcs failed in their attempt to take the city. They'd crossed the wastelands in midwinter, and they'd even managed to bring dragons with them. They were counting on a swift victory. Had they smashed their way into the city they could have wintered in comfort here, allowing fresh troops to join them from the east before mounting their invasion of the Human lands. As it is, they're stuck outside in the snow and that can't be comfortable, even for northern Orcs who are used to the bad weather.
"As soon as spring comes there'llbe a relief force on its way," says Gurd.
Gurd is the owner of this tavern, my landlord, and my oldest friend. We've fought beside each other all over the world. These days his hair is grey and he sells beer for a living but his strength and fighting spirit are undiminished. Come the spring he's fully expecting to be marching out of Turai and sending the Orcs back where they belong. It's not such an unreasonable expectation. At this moment armies should be gathering. Simnia and all lands to the west will be arming themselves for war. The Abelasian General Hiffier will be preparing an army from the League of City States. The Elves of the Southern Isles will be preparing their ships and sharpening their spears. In theory, the first day of spring should see a huge force marching towards Turai from the west and another force sailing up from the south.
Unfortunately, we can be sure that at the same time a huge army of Orcs will be moving towards us from the west. Prince Amrag's reinforcements might get here first. And anyway, Prince Amrag might not wait till spring.
"I reckon he'll try and force his way into Turai before then."
Gurd shakes his head.
"He can't. He doesn't have enough Orcs to storm the walls. He doesn't have siege engines and the dragons can't fly so well in winter. Our Sorcerers can hold them off."
It's true. Lisutaris, Mistress of the Sky, still has a formidable array of sorcerous talent under her command. While the Orcs broke our army, they didn't succeed in killing our Sorcerers and they've always been our most potent weapon. Gurd thinks that Prince Amrag miscalculated.
"Good attack, certainly. But not good enough. He didn't get into the city. I don't think he's even close any more. Why would he spend the winter out there in the snow? He'll head home and try again another time."
I motion for Dandelion to bring me a beer. Winter in Turai is never comfortable and the only reasonable thing for a man to do is sit in front of a roaring fire and drink beer till it's over. Unfortunately, civic duty requires me to spend a long time standing guard at the walls and I'm not enjoying it at all. If it wasn't for my magic warm cloak I'd have passed away already.
I'm an Investigator by trade but I'm not doing any investigating these days. Since the Orcs attacked, I haven't had a case. With the enemy outside the walls, the population is careful of its belongings. There are always shortages in Turai in winter and now it's going to be worse. Dragons burned the storage warehouses and food will soon become scarce. Crime hasn't gone away but with mercenaries, soldiers and Civil Guards everywhere, even the larger gangs that run the underworld have cut back on their activities. It means no one is paying me any money, but it's probably just as well. With my military duty to perform every day, I'd be pushed to find the time to investigate anything.
Gurd's tavern, the Avenging Axe, is very busy. There are plenty of customers trying to forget their troubles. Though Turai lost a lot of men outside the walls, the city is still fuller than I've known it for a long time. Mercenaries are everywhere, along with Turanian citizens from the outlying villages and farms who've made it into the city for shelter. Gurd, Tanrose and Dandelion are all busy serving food and drink, and so is Makri, apart from when she's with Lisutaris, performing her duties as bodyguard.
Makri works here as a barmaid. She used to be a gladiator, in the Orcish slave pits. She's a skilful woman with a sword. She has Orcish blood, as well as Human and Elvish. She's also the half-sister of Prince Amrag, leader of the Orcish forces. I'm the only person in Turai who knows that. I'm not about to pass the information along. The population of Turai hates Orcs. Recently Makri's had more than her usual share of comments and insults in the street, from anyone who feels like noticing her reddish skin, and pointed ears. If it was known that she was actually related to Prince Amrag she'd be in danger of being thrown from the city walls.
Gurd's also been spending time on military duty. Almost everyone has. Every tavern owner, Investigator, shoemaker, warehouseman, wagon driver, docker, and even those who never seem to have any sort of job that you can define, is obliged to report every day, sword in hand, ready to repel the Orcs.
I watch as Dandelion draws a tankard of ale for a mercenary who's still clapping his hands together for warmth and brushing snow from his tunic. She manages the operation reasonably competently, which is something of a surprise. Dandelion, our idiotic barmaid, talks to dolphins and has signs of the zodiac embroidered on her skirt. No one is quite sure how she ended up working in the Avenging Axe. She's not your average sort of barmaid, particularly not in Twelve Seas. This is the bad part of town and anyone working in a tavern has to be tough. Dandelion is not tough. When she first started, her incompetence was staggering, but she's more or less mastered the beer taps now. And while she doesn't have Makri's way of dealing with awkward customers-violence-she seems to get by all right by not exactly realising what's happening around her, and smiling sweetly at even the most hostile mercenary.
Tanrose emerges from the kitchen with a fresh pot of stew. I beat back several rivals in the food queue and take a healthy bowlful off her hands.
"Few more yams if you please, Tanrose."
Tanrose shakes her head.
"Can't give you them, Thraxas. No yams at the market today. There's a shortage."
Tanrose nods. Much of our supply of yams for the winter was burned in the warehouse fires. Immediately I'm depressed. Yams running out, and winter not even halfway through.
"I'll kill those Orcs for that," I mutter darkly, and I mean it. I'm a man with a healthy appetite, and a lot of girth to maintain. Interfere with my food supply and you're going to find yourself in trouble.
Excerpted from Thraxas Under Siege by Martin Scott Copyright © 2006 by Martin Scott . Excerpted by permission.
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