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  • Writer's pictureFreeDwarf

Not Always the Guards

Back when the Free Dwarf list first came out there was a troop type that did not occur in the Master Dwarf list and right from the very beginning it belonged to the Free Dwarfs - Spear Levy - the idea that the Farmers, Townsfolk and Artizans of the Free Dwarfs took to arms to defend their lands against invaders , I painted a couple of troops of Spear Levy to use in my Tournament army but they were soon superseded by other, sexier troop types. Over the past 6 months or so I have been working on expanding the background for my Free Dwarfs following the creation of the Raven Clan , but I haven't forgotten the original Bowlander in this development. As part of the Narrative I have gone back and will be finishing the two regiments of Spear Levy to go with the troops and they will feature in the Narrative campaign currently getting underway with a view to expanding the background of the Free Dwarfs of Bowland even more. As another part of this I wrote a short story to set the stage for a small battle I am playing with my partner and my burgeoning Ratkin forces, I decided that I would share the progress of this campaign and so I present my back ground piece - The Battle of Hofts Farm

The early morning sun cast its light onto the few remaining upright beams of the smouldering house, blackened and burned timbers lay strewn where they had fallen from the burning building during the night and the light morning breeze blew smoke and the smell of cooking flesh to Ranaf’s nostrils. He sighed and crossed over the small stream that ran alongside what had been a small farmstead and was now a scene of wanton destruction, the main building and several smaller structures burned and blasted. To either side of Ranaf other Dwarfs warily advanced, gripping their spears tightly and glancing nervously around.

 “There is no enemy here” a deep voice said from nearby , Ranaf and his fellows swung to the sound as a Green and Brown clad Dwarf stepped out of the shadow of a still standing wall, his black hair pulled back into a braid which lay across the folded hood of his long mottled cloak, a large crossbow hung from a canvas strap at his side and he gripped a blackened shortsword in his right hand. As the Spear Levy relaxed several more similarly garbed figures emerged from their hiding places.

“The Vermin left just after midnight, taking all but two with them” the Ranger said and swung around pointing with his shortsword towards the centre of the Farmstead, peering past him Ranaf saw two bodies lying on the ground, one blackened and shriveled and the other pale and naked in the weak sunlight, as he drew closer he realised that the white body was that of a female dwarf , bloodied and limp and the other was larger and more robust. “Hoft and his wife” Ranaf muttered, “they wouldn’t have given up easy” he transferred his spear to his left hand and used his calloused right hand to make the sign of Dianek before drawing his hand across his weary face.

“Looks like they were taken at dusk, probably didn’t have chance to get away” the Ranger said as he stepped up beside Ranaf “Aulf, Company second” he added. “They wouldn’t have tried” Ranaf replied, then “Ranaf, acting First of the Arnotston Spear Levy, we saw the fire in the night and came out at first light”

They both turned as a Blonde female Ranger jogged up to them, she nodded to Ranaf and turned to Aulf , “They came across the River , Ratkin only so they are not Slaves, they waited a day in the woods about a league away then crept here at dusk, they left before dawn heavily laden and with two captives” the Blonde Ranger spat then ran her fingers through her hair “ they had casualties , looks like two or three at least from the remains”

“Remains?” Ranaf asked

“Ratkin eat their dead and wounded” Aulf said and spat in his disgust, Ranaf felt his stomach lurch at the thought and it obviously showed on his face as the Rangers grinned at his expression, obviously not the first time they had seen a reaction such as that. “So the Farmers did put up a fight” Aulf said “Aye they would at that” Ranaf agreed, a feeling of anger surging through him again and blotting out the nausea”they were Hardy folk” he added and Aulf nodded thoughtfully as he sheathed his shortsword.

“There is nothing further we can do here Ranaf” Aulf was making hand signals to his Rangers as he spoke to Ranaf “ we are going to pursue the Rats and see if we can recover the captives” behind Aulf the Rangers wordlessly pulled on packs, adjusted pouches and hefted their crossbows in preparation for movement, the Blonde Scout cinched the straps on her pack tight and nodded to Aulf, “Very Well” he said” We will see you again no doubt , Farewell !” and with that the Rangers formed up around their leader and moved swiftly out of the smoke draped Farmstead at a steady jog, following the diminutive figure of their Scout across the stubbled fields and the dusty track in the direction of the River.

“Aye I reckon you may at that” grumbled Ranaf as he eyed up his Troops and the scene of devastation before him “Good Luck and Farewell to you” he added before turning back and beckoning to his Spear Levy to gather round him for Orders, it looked like they had a grim days work ahead of them.

Not so far away a pair of red eyes was watching the Spear Levy with interest, crouched in a ditch along the edge of a field of large broad-leafed green plants were a number of ragged looking figures , it was difficult to tell where lank fur ended and drab rags of cloth and leather began, various pieces of broken and cracked rusty armour were tied to various parts of their bodies with rope and the remains of leather strapping, but the most striking thing about them ware their long elongated heads with enlarged ears and a rat like snout, sunken red eyes and large brownish yellow teeth protruding from their long jaws which terminated in dagger like incisors completed the uncanny resemblance to rats , indeed these could only be the unnatural Ratkin , brought about by vicious experiments by the debased cousins of the Free Dwarfs , the Abyssal Dwarfs. Over time these Slaves had escaped and multiplied just like their lesser kin and they had become a scourge to both their former Masters and the Folk of the Free Dwarfs as well. These Ratkin crouched in the ditch were equipped with a variety of brutal looking weapons, from wicked hooked knives to crude spiked clubs and one carried a long rusted pipe fastened to a wooden handle. The Ratkin that was peering over the edge of the ditch turned his head to glare at his fellows. “Better Dwarfs gone, left only the town Dwarfs here, we wait, then we go back and kill more” the rest of the Ratkin nodded and chittered while the Leader looked around once more. “We rest while they work and then we attack them, they too tired to fight good!” he nodded and smiled “good Plan, Yes? Good Plan! Clawshot will keep watch while we rest” the Ratkin with the rusty pipe sighed and crawled up to the Leaders vantage point while the Leader settled back down into the ditch and made himself comfortable, he hefted the rusty weapon over the edge of the ditch and sighted it towards the Dwarfs in the Farmstead and squinted down the barrel at them, then turned his head and glanced at the Leader “watch them not me!” The Leader hissed, waving his serrated dagger for emphasis, the Clawshot gunner swivelled his head back to stare along the barrel of his oversized rifle and muttered to himself.

As the sun approached Midday Ranaf pulled at another charred beam in the remains of the small barn, then straightened up and wiped his brow with the back of his forearm, He paused for a minute to watch the rest of his Spear Levy as they bustled about the Farmstead, clearing the debris and stacking timbers, sifting through the wreckage of the Farmhouse itself, he turned to look at the small party he had detailed to bury the unfortunate Farmer and his wife , they were just filling in the Graves they had dug, stripped to the waist in the hot sun with their Spears and Shields stacked neatly off to one side just as they had drilled on their weekly evening muster, Ranaf smiled proudly to himself that the Arnotston Spear Levy are a well disciplined body of Free Dwarfs and are ready for anything. He was still contemplating that thought when there was a loud Bang from the other side of the Farmstead and one of the burial detail flung up his arms and fell head first into the freshly dug grave, or rather he would have been headfirst if he still had a head , instead the rest of the party were sprayed with blood and brain matter as the unfortunate Dwarfs head disappeared into a pink mist. There was an immediate silence and the shocked Dwarfs gaped in horror towards the grave where the still kicking feet of the luckless Levy Dwarf were sticking up, then as one their heads swung towards the field as a horde of yelling Ratkin came hurtling towards them. Several of the Dwarfs collided in their haste to reach their weapons but a few of the younger Dwarfs recovered their spears and shields bearing the proud blazon of a Smiths upraised hammer in red on a green and gold field, they managed to make a tiny shieldwall between the sprinting rats and their still scrambling brethren, seeing the tiny show of resistance , the larger of the Ratkin charged towards it while the smaller looking creatures edged sideways to avoid combat. With a crash the Ratkin hit the stalwart Dwarf formation, one of their number taking a spear thrust through the throat, but the rest of them barged the unsupported Dwarfs backwards and as the shield wall split apart they began a frenzied assault on the individual Dwarfs who quickly succumbed. Meanwhile the rest of the Ratkin were approaching the milling Spear Levy in the courtyard of the Farmstead, to their credit the Dwarfs didn’t panic but they knew that without their weapons they were helpless and they were scrambling to collect them from the neat stacks that looked so good in the Drill Hall, but now threatened to cause their destruction, just then with a rousing cry several cloaked figures barrelled into the flank of the Ratkin , cutting down  the front runners and bringing their headlong charge to a halt , at the same time the Ratkin that had broken the Shield wall were flung to the ground in a hail of crossbow bolts , the feathered shafts sprouting obscenely from their furred bodies as they fell to the ground, this gave the Spear levy enough time to recover their weapons and shields and then to form up in their practised formation and present the remaining Ratkin with an unmoving barrier of bright shields and a hedge of honed steel spearpoints. This was too much for the remaining Ratkin and they edged backwards then turned to flee, a large Ratkin in tattered armour tried to force them back to the fight but as another volley of crossbow quarrels dropped more of their evil kin, the Ratkin Leader received a dagger to the belly and the rest of his troops ran into the fields beyond.

Ranaf watched his foe disappear into the field with a sense of dismay which turned to amazement as the Ratkin reappeared at the edge of the field, much fewer in number and obviously terrified, behind them a line of cloaked figures came into view, they paused and raised their crossbows and the remaining Ratkin were felled by a well aimed volley from the Rangers weapons. Ranaf turned to look at his troops and came face to face with Aulf who was wiping the blade of his shortsword on a piece of Rag. “we found tracks where they split at the river , they thought they were clever and doubled back but we have a better Scout” he waved towards the Blonde Female Ranger that was sauntering towards them with the giant Clawshot Rifle over her shoulder “although it looks like we got here just in time” Aulf said as he looked around at the small battlefield, the dazed Spear Levy were tending their wounded and getting their equipment together while the Rangers were checking the bodies of the Ratkin and dispatching any wounded of feigning death, they moved with purpose while other Rangers stood watch out towards the Fields. Ranaf sighed as he realised that the Arnotston Spear Levy had fought and survived their first battle but that the Battle of Hofts Farm would not be their last in the coming days.


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