Defense of the Prancing Pony

After gathering as many of the townsfolk as we were able to find to the Pony during the night, we took what rest we could. At the dawn of the next morning, we met with the Watcher in the Pony square…

”We have dared to stand against our captors, and now they are angry. The women and children are inside the Prancing Pony,” said Second-watcher Heathstraw.

I clasped Deverell’s hand and she looked to me and smiled wearily.

“We will hold them here, Kaleigh.  I know we will,” she said.

“The brigands will come with torches and try to burn us out. The Pony can handle a few, but not more than five,” continued the Watcher.

The attack on Archet had never weighed so heavily upon me.  I tried to surface from my thoughts and return to the moment at hand, but heard Hithlim’s warning over the Watcher’s words…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Defense of the Prancing Pony. Size: Small Fellowship. Tier: 3]

I clutched at my chest and shook my head, trying to free myself…

”…if you see a torch-bearer, he must be immediately dispatched, without delay. Now, prepare yourselves, they come,” commanded Heathstraw.

We took our place before the Pony as its last defense and were tested soon after…

“Let us finish this! We will be free once more! For the Free Peoples! For Bree!” cried the Watcher.

And battle was upon us. Bandits in service of the mysterious Sharkey assailed us, trying to reach the Pony…

…and creatures far more sinister followed behind…

They swirled and circled about the square, taunting us, waiting for an opening…

…before charging us, hoping to turn us away through fright, but we would not turn away…

As I battled a wood-troll, Watcher Heathstraw cried out…

”A torch-bearer! Quickly, do not allow him to reach the Prancing Pony!”

I whirled about and sprinted for the stair, cutting down the brigand before he was able to set the Pony ablaze and then returned to the battle…

The ghosts of past and present loomed all around, forcing me into battles not only of space, but also of time…

I would not let myself fail again…

I waded into the stream of oncoming foes, turning them aside with my stickers…

…sending them to their rest on the cold cobbles beneath our feet…

A mighty Gorthorog entered the square along with many foes, including a torch-bearer who lit out for the Pony…

I raced toward the torch-bearer, cutting him down, before returning to aid the others…

I screamed at the Gorthorog to lure it away from Deverell.  It wielded a mallet and mace, each larger than any one of us…

I darted beneath the greater of its weapons, plunging my sticker into its knee with all the strength I could muster, crying out with both triumph and fear…

The Gorthorog responded in kind, driving both of its weapons into the cobbles, narrowly missing me…

…yet deafening all around while kicking up a blinding cloud of dirty snow…

Second-watcher Heathstraw and I battled the creature, maneuvering for a deciding blow while Deverell lent us her aid…

Finally, the moment came…

I let down my defenses, allowing the Watcher an unfettered strike as the Gorthorog advanced upon me.  He fell to the ground, and we ended him…

The Watcher’s chest heaved, “Rest… rest for a moment and gather your breath while we have the chance.”

Deverell saw to our cuts and scrapes while she was able, and we lent one another what encouragement we could in the moment before battle was upon us once again…

Bandits once again swarmed the square in an effort to reach the Pony.  We battled to turn them aside…

…all the while keeping an eye out for those brandishing torches, hoping to get near enough to the Pony to set it alight…

Watcher Heathstraw and I looked out over the enemy forces, trying to discern from them which direction the greatest assault would come…

…but the bandits would not give even this away freely…

Each assault wore us down further, and there was no let up of foes coming from either the south or the west…

“Kaleigh!”

I turned to see a torch-bearer nearing the stairs of the Pony and lit out after him…

…catching him with my sticker just before he came too near and set the Pony ablaze…

Worn and weary, we battled on…

The brigands started to work a new tactic to lure us away from the Pony.  They began having their archers fire at us from cover, forcing us to move forward to engage them.  They would then send their torch-bearers scurrying by, with the hope they would reach the Pony before we could disengage and fall back…

I heard Deverell cry out…

…and I whirled about to find another torch-bearer within strides of the Pony…

I gathered myself for another sprint over the slick cobbles, catching the brigand just in time, but we were slowing, weakening…

…and our foes were unrelenting…

Sensing our fatigue and that the end of our strength was near, they pushed forward into the square…

We held our ground for as long as we could, until greater foes were sent in to break us…

…and we were driven back, step by step, by their strength and their numbers…

…yet we made them pay dearly for each advance…

As we drew near to the Pony and saw the worried faces of those depending upon us to keep them safe, I reached for all that I had left within me to battle on…

Watcher Heathstraw and I weaved across the square, taking turns out in front of the battle, trying to give one another precious moments of rest…

…but in one of those moments, I saw that one of the torch-bearers had skulked past us too far…

Just as I caught him from behind with my sticker, he heaved his firebrand through an upper window of the Pony…

I raced up the stairs and pounded my fists on the door…

“Fire!  Fetch the buckets!  The buckets!”

I then returned to the battle, fighting to clear my vision through the stinging tears I wept as I heard the Pony catch fire behind me…

The screams and the wails, the village was burning…

Through the smoke and the blur of my tears, I saw spirits of old rise up to do battle once more…

…and I battled them, and with them…

“The village!  Save the village!”

Captain Brackenbrook teamed with Deverell and I, as we fought with those that threatened our home…

I heard the screams behind us, and I turned…

“Deverell!  The Mad Badger!  It burns!”

But the Blackwolds would not relent.  They poured through the gates, forcing our hand.  We could not leave them to aid the others, and the village fell further to the brigands’ torch…

We battled on…

One of the Blackwolds led a pack of wolves into the square.  I bound him in place and thought, somehow, with words I did not know, but not quickly enough…

…not before he loosed them upon us…

The wolves howled and they bayed, piercing our hearts and minds with fear.  I turned to call for aid, but there was no one, no one save for those we fought to save…

The village burned around us, and we battled, alone…

“Jon!”

“Atli!”

I screamed as I tried to lure the wolves to face me.  Their claws and teeth found their mark, piercing my leathers…

“I…”

Brackenbrook and Deverell rallied to me then, Deverell catching me around my shoulders before I fell to my knees.  I staggered under my feet, trying to catch my breath as they battled on…

It was then that we heard a growl, low and gutteral, permeate the air around us…

“Those who stand against Sharkey will burn for it!”

The three of us turned to face the Blackwold leader and the wargs he set upon us, as we choked on the acrid smoke born from the flames of the Mad Badger…

I lit into him with every last bit of my strength…

The wargs bit and pawed at us, while their master used the confusion they wrought to make his strikes.  We parried away his at attacks while fighting for a better position to make our own…

We felt the warmth from the fire engulfing the Mad Badger as it grew.  Flames licked the outside of its walls, where no relief could be brought until our battle was won…

“Death to the Free Peoples!” sneered the Blackwold leader confidently.

But, ever so slowly it seemed, we struck down his wargs, one by one…

The moment was now.  We pushed through our pain, our fatigue, and the fear and despair that we battled to keep just out of reach…

The Blackwold leader looked at the wargs lying cold and lifelessly near his feet…

“I will never lose to the likes of you!” he uttered, starting to back away.

But there was no letting him escape after the ruin he had brought about…

…and we struck him down before the prize he sought, one he had come far too close to reaching…

I heard Deverell and Brackenbrook cry out in triumph.  I turned to look for more foes but saw none…

I wiped the smoke and the tears from my eyes and found myself in the Pony square in Bree.  The Prancing Pony was burning…

We stumbled to where the townsfolk carried buckets of water outside and joined them to help dowse the flames…

Once the flames of the Pony were under control, Second-watcher Heathstraw, Deverell, and I embraced one another on the cobbles where the battle was fought.

“A great victory for Bree!” exclaimed the Watcher.

I leaned against Deverell and nodded wearily.  We had won our victory, but at far too great a cost for my liking.

And our task was far from done.  Our endeavor could afford us only two days more in Bree, for helping to drive out the remainder of Sharkey’s forces and for what little rest we could find for ourselves, before we had to away…

We meant to take the Great East Road and travel eastward, in search of wise counsel and where we could lend or aid once more, before the great battle that was surely to come…

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