Recently we hosted a quick (so we thought) contest for the best short — as in very short, under 500 words — story that took the theme “Illyriad Battle.” As we expected, we received a ton of great writing. A TON.
So, instead of picking a single winner, we went with three. Heck, we could have picked out 12 and would still need to give out more prizes.
Each winner gets 100 Prestige and a custom in-game medal.
Enjoy reading these. We know we did!
Hold the Line by Belegar Ironhammer
Steel rang upon steel beneath a blackened, storm-wrought sky. White forks of lightning flashed brilliantly, heralding deafening claps of thunder that roared across the muddy, blood-soaked battlefield. Guttural orc war-cries echoed in the night, a savage prayer to the gods of war, answered only by the roaring bellows of the dwarves, beseeching their comrades to greater efforts.
“Hold the line!” shouted Belegar, yelling with all his might. Clad in silversteel plate and surrounded by his elite bodyguards, the dwarf king stood like a rock against the orc tide, his warhammer gripped firmly in his gauntleted hands. The war axes of his chosen rose and fell in a steady rhythm, every stroke claiming the life of an orc, snapping bones like straw and pulping innards in crimson sprays of arterial blood. Crossbow bolts cut the air, hissing like vipers.
A snarling, yellow-toothed orc charged Belegar, brandishing gore-streaked scimitars in each of its meaty hands. Red, bloodthirsty eyes glowed like embers in the orc’s ugly, lopsided skull. A cloak of flayed skin wrapped about his brawny shoulders.
One of Belegar’s bodyguards leapt in front of the onrushing orc, an oath of hatred gushing from his lips. Quick as the lightning that rent the sky, the orc slashed his scimitar at the dwarf, piercing his armour and dealing a grievous wound to the dwarf’s shoulder. The dwarf sank to his knees, blood seeping from the sundered armour.
Before the orc could complete the kill, Belegar attacked, screaming a foul cry of his own in the harsh language of the dwarves. Blunt-nosed hammer and scythe-like scimitar met in a guttering sizzle of orange sparks. Pressing his assault, Belegar slammed his hammer downwards in a series of brutal, overhead strikes.
The orc parried the dwarf’s heavy-handed strokes, his every action accompanied by a savage grunt, his green face split by a feral, lipless sneer.
The mud sucked at Belegar’s boots, seeking to drag him down as he advanced. The silver-armoured dwarf pulled his hammer over his shoulder and swung it forwards just as the orc launched an attack of his own. Belegar ducked beneath the twin murder-weapons and completed his swing, his hammer crunching solidly into the orc’s left ankle, which shattered like a pane of glass in a hailstorm.
Swept off his feet, the orc landed heavily on his back, air whooshing from his lungs. The impact ripped the breath from his throat and a scimitar slipped from his hand.
Seizing the advantage, Belegar swung hard and smashed his hammer into the orc’s sternum. The force of the impact stung his hands and vibrated up his arms and into his shoulders. A column of thick black blood geysered into the air, drenching Belegar in a shower of warm, sticky rain. The dwarf’s next attack hit the orc’s skull, which exploded like rotten fruit. Bone chips ricocheted off his armour.
Belegar stood to his feet just as another wave of orcs attacked, a solid mass of muscle, sweat, and rage.
“Hold the line!”
A Beautiful Morning by Mauhaut
Jocelyn peered across the field towards the castle. Morning mist was hazing the ground, a small stream was gurgling nearby and the dawn light was flushing the castle towers with red and gold.
It was a beautiful morning.
‘Why isn’t anything happening over there?’ he thought. ‘They can see us, and their scouts must have been reporting our movements for days.’
He looked back over his shoulder, the camp fires surrounded by archers and infantry, spearmen on the perimeter being handed plates of food. He noted approvingly that squads of cavalrymen and squires were passing out feed and water buckets to the horses picketed behind the tents. There was an appetising smell of bacon cooking in pans over camp fires.
A light breeze began to brush over the tops of the grasses and sighing he moved off to report to the commander.
Knight Commander Argenteous was not in the best of moods….
‘Some nameless idiot has recalled most of the divisions from the other attack,’ he stormed. ‘He wants them for a gala, or something equally asinine.’
‘Before some other wet behind the ears royal brat gets ideas about birthday parades we’d best get this siege over and done with.’
‘Sound the attack Jocelyn, plans are laid, let’s get on with it.’
The plans had indeed been laid. Jocelyn and his fellow commanders had honed and refined the battle plans over many weeks. Weeks in which their progress north had been apparently ignored.
The stream was larger here, flowing slower. Jocelyn could see fish in the water and swans were gliding majestically, outlined against the willows and reeds. So entrancing was the scene that it took a moment – a quiet, half asleep moment – before Jocelyn realised that this was no low lying dawn mist but smoke, the siege engines had done their work; this morning there were no red gold towers, just blackened beams and smoking debris. No smell of bacon this morning, another, far less appetising smell permeated everything.
It was very quiet, the quartermasters had moved everything necessary into the marginal safety of a partially still standing curtain wall and the camp was, apart from the sentries and scouts, mostly sleeping. The horses were picketed on the water meadows, the grass so long and lush that it hid the picket lines.
It was an idyllic spot. Idly Jocelyn wondered if Commander Argenteous was minded to be generous in rewarding his subordinate commanders.
‘Good land this,’ he thought. ‘Horse country, and I could grow good crops, soil looks fertile, river is wide enough and deep enough that I doubt it runs dry in summer.’
‘Miriam and the kids would love it here.’ Daydreaming, in the still of the dawn, he wandered slowly along the river bank.
Something glinted away in the distance.
Baffled, Jocelyn peered across the fields and forests, towards another castle, rising out of the mist in the distance; the dawn light flushing the castle towers with red and gold.
It was a beautiful morning.
Inspired by https://hoocher.com/Jasper_Francis_Cropsey/Chepstow_Castle_on_the_Wye_1854.jpg
And a real circumstance in the GA war.
A Militiaman Returns Home by Artefore
He had long dreamt of this moment. The sun brushed the distant hilltops, painting the clouds a deep crimson as the day made way for night. The last of the birds sung from the trees that lined the earthen path, and as he strode up it, the smell of roasted chicken rode on the light summer breeze. The top of the path led to a simple cottage, earth and thatch, but to him, the sight of a mighty keep could not be more comforting. At last, after all the years, of toil and battle, he had returned.
The woman who answered the door was older, greyer than he remembered, but the dimples in her cheeks shone just as they always had when she grinned at the sight of his face, and her arms around his neck and the kiss she pressed into his mouth felt just as good as he remembered. He looked deep into her almond eyes, and whispered,
“Maria, I love you more than anything.”
“Adam! Oh, Adam, you’re home!” she cried, and at that moment, she was as young as the day they were wed, and he found himself grinning ear to ear as he embraced her. As he stepped over the doorway, he nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I’m home.”
Adam found his sons whacking each other with wooden sticks in the back yard. They rushed up to him when they saw him, excitedly shouting “Dad! Dad!” and wrapping their arms around his midriff in a tight bearhug. He noticed the eldest, Rory, was wearing a pail over his head like a helmet, and took it off his head, laughing.
“Look at how you two have grown! What’s this for, Rory? Fighting off the Orcs?”
“Yeah Dad!” his son exclaimed, “I’m gonna be just like you!”
The pounding of boots shook the earth, filling his skull with noise and sound as the army marched, a living machine of leather and steel. Suddenly, further ahead in the column, someone screamed, “AMBUSH!!” and the sky seemed to fill with black feathered javelins. Adam barely had time to raise his shield before they fell upon him, the thud of spear tip against oak intermingling with the screams of those less fortunate. As the orcish hordes fell upon them, he felt something graze his right thigh, and when he looked down, he saw blood on his leather.
“Dad? Dad? Are you okay?” Adam felt tugging on his shirt as Harst, his youngest son, awoke him from his daydream.
“Yes, I’m alright. Come here,” he said, grabbing a stick. “Let me show you how to really swing a sword.”
Later that evening, as they sat down to roast chicken and fine apple cider, his wife pressed him with questions about his years away.
“Was the food good? Did you meet the Lord? Did you see the Bitter Sea?” He told them all he could, about the jungles of Kul Tar and the seas of Azura, about the gnomes and the fey and all the wondrous things he had seen.
“Where’s Donald?” she asked. “Did he come home to his wife too?”
“Donald? Oh, he-”
The battle swirled and leapt around him, a cacophony of screams and the ring of steel on steel. Adam held his ground, kneeling on his good leg and keeping his shield high. A wolf leapt at him, slaver dripping from its jaws as its orcish rider urged it forward. Adam bashed its nose with his shield, sending it veering away, yowling. He gripped his spear, and as the wolf turned for another attack, he drove the point between its eyes. The beast thrashed in pain, ripping the weapon from his grip, and throwing the orc out of his saddle. He drew his sword and rushed the greenskin, screaming curses as he raced forward. The orc only laughed, and brought his scimitar around in a sweep that knocked the sword from his hands. Adam fell to his knees, and the orc raised his cruel blade for the final strike.
It was then that a spear tip poked through the green chest, and Donald’s familiar face grinned as it fell to the earth. “We’ve got to look after each other!” he cried, and held out his hand. Adam was about to take it, but another hand was faster. The fallen orc yanked Donald off his feet and crushed him in a deadly embrace with the last of its strength, cursing in a guttural language as he squeezed the life from the man’s body. Donald let out an unearthly howl, and the blood drained from his face. Adam grabbed a rock and drove it against the orc’s skull, but it was too late. Donald’s face was frozen into a deathly scream, pale white and unbreathing. His crushed body slumped against the orc’s, and Adam knelt in the dirt and wept.
“-he, uh, decided to stay in the army! He’s in some far off land right right now, I reckon.”
“Oh, that’s nice! I hope he enjoys the adventure!”
Adam said nothing. He knew that he was safe now, in the comfort of his home and family, but the horrors of war would find a way to stay with him until the day he died.
Thanks again to our excellent players!