The Legend of the Battle of the Vale“It was Autumn. No, wait! Late Autumn.” The tale always began like this. Sometimes with a quick argument about what year it happened. The barmaid threw another log on the fire, keen to build it up while she still had the chance. Old Bodger didn’t like people movingaround during the story.
“Tell us! Go on!” The younglings gathered round the fat, old halfling. Tugging at his sleeve and pleading to be told once more of the Battle of the Vale.
Bodger’s wrinkled face was split with a grin. “Now, I wasn’t much older than you lot are, when it happened.” He drawled. “It all started when old Splingo Padfoot came back from foreign parts. Carrying a red, shining gem as big as your head!”
His eyes drifted, passing as they always did over the room to above the bar and resting on a vast, rusty trap that gave the inn its name- The Poacher’s Folly.
“Yep…years and years back…”
The Battle“How many?!?”
The inn erupted into shouts of protest, a rapid drone of angry, fearful voices clamouring to be heard.
“Just give him up! How is one life worth all of our own?”
Mayor Bodger shouted for order, slamming down a tankard to mark his point.
“It may be one life Mistress Girbbins, but it is one of our own. I don’t know what they do in other towns, but in this here one we care for each other and I will not hurl Splingo to the wolves!”
The diminutive thief was standing shyly in a corner, hood pulled up and making nervous glances to the door. Girbbins scowled at the young mayor, hands on hips. “These are no mere bandits, to be seen away with a sling and a dog! These are Norsemen! Marauders with horses and armour!” “Even if the Dukes of Hell themselves asked us to give up one of our own, I’d still tell them to bugger off.” Bodger snapped. “Let’s say we give up Splingo. Betray what we stand for. What then? Do you think they will go home in peace? Every farm will be burned and salted. Every child led away in chains. You don’t give into bullies. You stand up to them!” Farmer Jolkins rose up, hands shaking from age. “But Mauraders!” He wailed. “The scouts saw them! Huge men with muscles like bulls. We can’t fight them Bodger. In a fair fight, they’d crush any one of us into the dirt and they outnumber us many times.”
Bodger licked his dry lips and glanced over the packed tavern. Most of the town was at the meeting. Too many too young or too old. Huddled together and looking right at him for an answer. Being Mayor was meant to be all sashes and pies, not life and death decisions…
The barmen coughed awkwardly and Bodger looked over to see him polishing a cup under the jaws of the huge, iron trap.
A grin crept over Bodger’s face and they looked at him as if he’d gone slightly mad.
“Yep. You’re right there. In a fair fight, they would slaughter us to man. But that’s not a problem.”
The farmer gawped and peered in confusion. “What?”
“Because Jolkin’s, we’re not going to fight them fair. Not one bit.”
Bodger scurried into the alley, shouts and bellows carrying over the sounds of panicked horses and the screams of the dying. It had worked perfectly. A paper-thin shield wall that broke on impact, drawing them into the town. They chased after them, hooves tearing up the road. The whinnies and snorts changed to cries of terror as Ma Walton tipped up the barrel of melted butter, sending the Marauder Cavalry scattering across the square in a pile of twisted limbs. Then, the jaws of the trap snapped shut. Arrows, stones and pots of boiling filth were hurled from every window. Every Step had a hidden spike, every lane and pathway was a killing field. Archers who passed the summer splitting willow wands found their mark in Norse throats and they struck from all angles. Strike and fade. Strike and fade.
Bodger ran out of the alleyway, glancing behind him. He felt his lip spit open as he was sent sprawling to the cobbles from a savage backhand.
“You miserable cur!” He looked up at a huge man, glad in fire-blackened armour with a vast horned helmet. He brought down a vicious hammer and Bodger barely managed to roll aside.
“I’ll kill you! You and every last one of these stinking halflings!” Spittle flew from his lips as he readied the weapon for another strike. Bodger drew his dagger and plunged it into his shin and the warlord howled in pain. He staggered back before ripping it free, hurling it away to clatter into a drain. Bodger scrabbled to his feet, stumbling over his green cloak. Suddenly, Bodger felt a flood of agony over his side. His vision swiftly faded to grey and he was dimly aware of the snap of ribs. Head banging on the cobbles as the sky rushed to greet him. The Marauder stood above him, effortlessly hefting his hammer, now slick with blood.
“You fought well. For vermin.” He spat. Bodger managed to force his aching face into a smile.
“Th..Thank you.” He managed, spitting out globule of blood.
“Look around you as you die! Your homes will burn, your children will be meat for our dogs. What say you to that, little man?”
Bodger thought for a moment, his heart pounding. “Well, you know what they say about Halflings, don’t you sir?”
His face creased into frustration and puzzlement.
“We look after our own.”
The puzzled look on his face changed to horror as a dozen halflings leapt from the shadows, the roar of rage turning into a wet gurgle as he fell, covered with hacking knives.