Of Orcs and Machines
By Gerry Torbert
As the machines were being torn down and "packaged," horses and mules from around the countryside began to disappear. "An army travels on its stomach," some would say. Certainly this one would travel on the backs of many beasts of burden. Fixers and Wall Smashers aided woodworkers and blacksmiths in the forging of replacement parts, much to their dislike - the gritty, sweaty work was not well suited to their talents, but it was decreed by Yurt at the behest of Cro. The machines were staged near the south gate in preparation for the move. Ladder Pigs were hitched to horses; Fire Flingers were yoked to mules; the Garagats were carried by huge eight-wheel flat bed carts, their necks and tails bent over their backs like road kills borne of some mad mind; the Goat Head was disassembled and the side frames were folded on the main bed, actually quite a lot more compact than anyone thought possible; the Hell Buzzard was disassembled into frame sections and strapped to flatbeds, while the weight was removed from the arm. Pulo convinced Kourk to leave the weights behind - they were, after all, stones packed in a box, stones which could be picked up anywhere; and the Gut Stickers were simply yoked to horses. After this, dozens of carts of spears, spare parts, barrels of grease and several Smokers tailed the procession.
The formation consisted of some Hell Dogs led and followed by Fangs, then Smashers and Fixers with the help of other Dogs. A company of Dogs moved to each flank, traveling up to five hundred yards away from the road, securing the army from any possible onlookers during the night and grabbing what food or provisions they could from farms and settlements along the way. As orcs tend to do, they traveled during the night and slept covered away from the sun from mid-morning to dusk.
A sizeable group of Town Pigs were on hand. Wherever there was something to be recorded they could be found. They took note of the methods of packing and hauling the equipment for the use of managing future forays or, more likely, to "put the finger" on lazy, weak or inefficient soldiers. The latter information would be given to Yurt for the appropriate punishment and to elevate their own position. As keepers of the records, the Pigs knew they had the power to exact punishment on those they disliked simply through manipulation of the truth. Such is the power of the Press.
They also employed several sketch artists who were able to create quick, crude drawings of the equipment and its deployment both during mobilization and during the actual battle. These pictures would be used to help make the machines more efficient, or at their worst, show how they failed.
The advance troops of Dogs and Fangs pulled into Hargox two days later. The troops split into two and flanked the town, then surrounded it. They expected to face some resistance but were surprised when the flanks entered past the ramshackle huts around the perimeter at nearly the same time - it was almost as if the residents had expected them. After herding the orcs and a few goblins into the center of the town, they learned that they had been under constant pressure by the Leg Breakers (the ruling tribe of Gorug) to produce coal and food for the city. They felt no desire to fight another group of orcs, and likely looked upon the intrusion as trading one master for another. The Fang kept a tight ring of security around the town, however, just in case.
As could be imagined, it was a difficult task to "hide" tons of strange-looking equipment. The Fang kept the watch tight, allowing only a few of the original inhabitants out. The siege machines were hidden along the main road, near patches of dense forest. Yurt instructed his officers to direct the Hell Dogs to assist in mining coal, not a job they enjoyed. The mine production was increased, coupled with the deaths of a dozen or so of the Dogs - an already dangerous occupation had been made more deadly due to the demands on safety. During the several days of occupation, the coal production slated to go to Gorug was maintained to avert any possible suspicion from within the fortress walls. Within several days, sufficient supplies had been secured.
The equipment erection seemed to go well. The flingers were bolted together, the Buzzard was built and the Goat's Head frame was established. A giant log was found that would be suitable for the ram - it was not an easy task, since the forests nearby were largely stripped of old growth and not replanted. The equipment would have to forego any dry runs, so their condition depended much upon the care taken during travel. The pounding and twisting caused by transporting the bundled weapons over roads of poor quality strained joints and pins, wallowing out holes that were originally well-designed and weakening critical members. Even Pulo's idea of removing some of the members for transportation didn't solve all of the problems.
For the most part, the residents of Hargox were willing to assist their new masters. Their plight under the suppression of Gorug had consisted of toiling in fields and in mines, not an ideal life for the Dark Folk. They were willing to throw off the yoke of economic slavery for that of another group of orcs, even if it meant they would likely have to pick up roots and follow them back to settle closer to Orc-haven - there would be no life in this town if Gorug won, and even less if they lost. At least it would be a life of battle.
There were a few, however, who secretly plotted against the Haigrogians. They worked with the others, but met at times in the small grog-house at the east end of town. They doubted the ability of the huge machines to wreak any substantial damage on the huge walls of their former masters and preferred a safe life of drudgery to the seemingly endless conflict the two cities seemed to enjoy. Although only a couple of dozen in number, they concocted a set of tribal keywords and signs they would use to communicate with each other. They called their new tribe "The Empty Tusk," reflecting their silence, and would be a force more damaging than their numbers belied.
Three days had passed. Major Yurt drove the Hell Dogs hard, forcing them to supply the siege machines with coal and aid in assembly of the weapons. Cro pushed the Fixers and Wall Smashers as well, giving them tight deadlines to have the equipment in shape. The wooded area was less than a half a mile from Gorug - a good situation, as they would need to be as close to the castle as possible. The Red Fang spread out along a perimeter of a thousand feet, stopping anyone making their way toward Gorug, even killing a few. The security of the forces couldn't be taken lightly, since any report of strange goings-on, no matter how insignificant, could alert them, if their shamans didn't use their magic to alert them first. The Haigrogians simply had to hope that magic would not reveal them.
The third night had been selected by Yurt and Cro as zero hour. It was apparent that the previous day's rain was sure to cause some fog from the vast, rough plain separating Gorug from the sea, which they felt could aid in covering their approach. The two feuding leaders made little mention of their battle, neither in private nor in the open. Apparently realizing that they needed each other's help in the upcoming battle, and that failure would lead to their own deaths, they grudgingly made an unspoken pact - that they would finish their fight later, alone, when there would be no distractions nor any outside involvement. Their job at this point was to get through the battle.
They kept the date and time of the battle between themselves to avoid any possible last-minute attempts to warn Gorug. The plan was one of simple diversion. Six Ladder Pigs would attack the east wall north of the main gate, two positioned just south of it. Gut Stickers would spread out from the main road, one hundred seventy five feet away from the wall. The three in the middle would aim at the main gates, while two flanking ones would be placed on a flat area to the south, one to the north, where they could be turned quickly, in the event that troops would be sent from the sides.
The Fire Flinger was to be set slightly to the south, some two hundred feet from the wall. Captain Horat had determined, from very accurate Town Pig maps, that the main command post could be best reached from this point across the wall. The Hell Buzzard would be set just to the north of the gate.
The plan was to have Ladder Pigs to the north attacking first, forcing Gorug's troops to defend that side of the wall. The Hell Buzzard would then lace the ramparts and the paths just inside the wall with burning tar, trapping the defenders from moving back to the south. Bombardment would then begin by the Fire Flinger. The Buzzard would shoot farther, leaving a line of fire deep into the city.
Garagats would begin moving forward - they were too big and noisy to be brought in early. Both would nestle up to the wall just south of the gate, leaving a path for the Goat's Head, which would tail the wooden horses and gain speed as it approached. The first strike would be brought to bear on the gate by its speed, but after it hit, it would begin driving the huge log back with steam power, swinging backward and dropping forward to crash the portal.
The Stickers would shoot across the top of the wall, further preventing troops from moving to the south. When the gate was broken open, they would lay a heavy blanket of spears toward the Bazoks who would be expected to storm out in hand-to-hand combat, wielding their mighty great swords. If needed, the Pigs could be used to give cover to troops to allow them to enter the gates. It all should work, according to Horat, who spent many hours selling his plan to Yurt. But, of course, this presumed there would be a minimum of mechanical problems and the weather was right.
The Red Fangs had spent a few hours in the early evening getting close to the fortress walls under cover. As darkness fell and the cover of a soup-thick fog spread over the fields, they made their way to the gate and around the east wall, quietly taking out the few guards on the ground. The order was given through Cro and his subordinates to begin moving. Wheels and axles were kept covered with grease - several Wall Smashers kept the noisy equipment as quiet as possible. It was difficult to keep the machines on the road in the dark, so several Dogs lined up along the road and walked ahead of the equipment to give the operators a point of reference.
The six ladder pigs led the way. As it was difficult to grease the wheels in such tight quarters, the eighteen to twenty orcs inside the shells simply lifted the pigs and walked with them. Similarly, a yoke pole was placed through the horse ring on the front of the gut sticker's frames, enabling the Hell Dogs to pull the ballistae to their staging points. In all, the Ladder Pigs and Gut Stickers were placed quietly and quickly at their staging locations. Other Dogs brought water bags along and began dousing the Ladder Pigs to defend against the inevitable tar and fire barrages from the parapets. It was unknown if any orc wizards resided in Gorug-it was doubtful, as orcs were not generally given to arcane magic-but if there were, the water bags would also help against the inevitable fireballs they would surely fling.
The Hell Buzzard presented different problems. Due to its additional weight, the arm was carried on a large cart and the frame was wheeled into position. In order to attach the arm, it was necessary to winch it onto the frame and twist it into place while holding it horizontally. Back in Haigrog, the Smashers practiced this many times, but not in the quiet mode. Now, there was no way around it. The arm was winched slowly into place, the weight side first. The long arm was then hoisted into place, allowing the main pins to twist into place.
But as the rope was pulled taut, it snapped, sending the lighter part of the arm hurtling downward onto Gorax, a Smasher who was guiding it into place with a rod. His body was crushed from the waist down, and as he lay under the weight, he began to scream. Standing nearby was Major Yurt, who ran over to Gorax, but instead of trying to lift the arm, he pulled his sword and unceremoniously chopped off the Smasher's head to prevent any noise. His move may have saved the mission, but as he walked away, licking the black blood from his sword, other Smashers looked on, and vowed. . .
Cro ran to the Buzzard at the sound of the arm hitting Gorax and they exchanged glares. There was no time nor was it the place, they thought, but soon. . . Not that they thought anything of killing a helpless, injured opponent, but it would be a good excuse to seek revenge when the time was right. Cro helped the others lift the arm into place, then walked over to the hoisting rope. Picking it up, the first thing he noticed was the end - a clean cut, about two thirds of the way through.
The ruckus stirred a few Gorugian sentries at the top of the wall who were imbibing blood grog and ale. They lifted a torch, but the light was scarcely enough for them to determine the cause of the sounds in the fog, and their night vision didn't extend much past their torchlight. After a few slurred curses and abusing of each other for worrying about wild animal noises, they went back to their merrymaking.
With a twist of the arm, the pins dropped into place and the crews began to pass the rocks, one-by-one, to the weight box. The flinger was being drawn into place - it was too big to lift, so several oxen were yoked to it. Its wheels made a few creaks, but the sentries were too engorged to care at this point. It was wheeled into position and the arm was turned to wind the ropes. The buckets of tar were placed on one end, then the other, in preparation for firing.
The low hum of steam churning into a frenzy within the Gut Stickers' boilers was the only noise of concern so far. Yurt looked back to the beginning of the road and lit a torch. The Smasher positioned at the mouth of the first Garagat saw the torch and grabbed two of his own, reaching around its head to place the torches in the eye sockets. The Hell Dogs moved quietly into positions nearby the Ladder Pigs as they moved the last few feet to the walls. As they placed their ladders against the wall, a sentry looked over the wall and saw Yurt's torch. He yelled a warning to the orcs inside the walls below, and the attackers began to climb the ladders to the top of the wall. As the few positioned on the wall made their way along the ramparts, they met the orcs and a furious fight broke out. Shouts arose from behind the wall as others joined the fray.
Suddenly, a rumble from the slight rise just east of the walls rose to a roar as the Garagats began to walk toward the castle. Their steam boilers were being stoked to the fullest, and the chugging of the engines reverberated throught the fog and bounced off the walls, making them sound as if giant bulls were charging. Indeed, their gait was such that the Hell Dogs were running just to maintain their distance behind them. Several of the soldiers were on board, but many more found it less settling to run behind them and use them for ladders when they got to the walls. No one was sure that they wouldn't blow up.
They walked with thunderous footsteps, belching steam in huge clouds along their front, making it appear the very chests of the war horses were on fire. Added to the fog, which had begun to thicken, and the fire shooting from the stack at their back, they seemed to be alive - the torches in the eyeholes gave the impression that the castle was being attacked by some sort of monsters fresh out of their wildest dreams. The call went out from the ramparts that "beasts" were attacking - no one had seen such formidable machines before. The fact that they were walking added to the effect.
As they approached the gate, several orcs at the mouth of each Garagat fired on the wall sentries with crossbows, helping to keep them from returning to the south side. The Buzzard began its first volley, sending a Smoker directly on top of the wall just to the south of the gate. The keg burst into billowing flames, sending a shower of sparks and burning tar across the walkway and trapping the defenders to the north and toward the ever-increasing number of Dogs now swarming the wall. The Smashers cheered and began hoisting the Buzzard's weight back into place. A few of them climbed the structure and began passing a few large rocks upward to add to the weight box, hoping to add to their range for the next shot.
Meanwhile in Gorug, chaos reigned supreme. Oluk orcs of the Leg Breaker tribe were running back and forth, trying to organize their troops. Bazoks, let out of their cages, were running from the fire that the Buzzard hurled across the wall. Usually listening only to their Oluk masters, they wandered about across the north side of the gate. The Haigrogians now owned the north side of the east wall, and more were coming from the Garagats on the south side.
What few defenders were left along the wall looked out across the field and saw another almost impossible sight approaching the main gate. A huge framework of logs and chains, belching fire and steam, was being pushed by orcs and oxen toward the doors, gaining speed with each second. This was definitely a battering ram - they had seen hend-held ones before. But on the end of the ram was a huge metal head, and despite being driven forward, the ram was lifting and being pulled backward, and up! As the machine approached the gate, an orc riding on the frame pushed a lever and the ram swung forward. The resulting smash rumbled throughout Gorug, sending chills down the backs of its inhabitants. The portals held, but some cracking of the main bolt could be seen.
Looking to the south of the gate, the defenders saw an equally strange sight. An arm was held by a tower and was spinning faster and faster. At each end of the arm was a flaming mass. As it gained speed, the masses suddenly were released and flew over the wall - directly onto the Oluk's command building. The tar balls burst into flames on the thatched and wooden roofs, immediately drenching the Leg Breaker's building in yellow flames and searing heat.
The air was now filled with the swishing sounds of short spears flying over the wall. They found their marks in the chests of a few unlucky orcs. Outside, the Smashers reloaded the Gut Stickers for another volley. Cro supervised one of the machines, and was watching as the steam began to build. It reached the safety point and the Smasher pulled the lever to allow the steam into the piston. But the spears were driven only halfway to the gates. Cro pushed the Smasher to the side and inspected the indicator bars - they had been bent outward, causing the operator to release the steam much too early. He thought for a minute, then remembered the cut rope of the Buzzard - he was convinced that someone was tampering with the weapons. He waved his arms and called a cease-fire along the Sticker line.
It was a little too late. Two machines away, a deafening roar was heard, followed by a huge cloud of steam and a rain of wooden and iron parts. The boiler had burst, killing three Smashers and a Fixer - Shagrax, himself, was found headless, drooping over the front left frame pole.
Yurt ran over to the accident. "What the hell is goin' on, Cro? Keep 'em firin'!"
Cro swung around to see a sword pointed toward him. "I gotta shut 'em down, Yurt. Someone's been foolin' around, saboutagin' 'em."
Yurt shook the sword back and forth. "That's a lie, Cro. We been keepin' 'em under close watch. Git 'em runnin', I don't care if they blow up!"
Cro batted the sword aside and strode to face him. "Zat da same kinda watch ya kept over the Buzzard? Da hoist rope was cut, not broke, but CUT! It's them quiet types from Hargox, I tell ya. I never did trust 'em!"
Yurt lowered his sword. "Hoist rope? Cut? Why dincha tell me, maggot?"
"Seemed ya wuz too busy killin' my boy, back 'ere, at's why!"
"He was gonna squeal. It woulda put us all in trouble. Besides, it was yer idea to stop at this town! Don't gimme any a yer lip, Cro. The Fangs'll be on yer arse in a minute!"
Cro put his face right into Yurt's. "I got da machines, Yurt. Watch yer own back. . .We'll settle dis later. . .got some Stickers ta fix right now."
Yurt stared hard at Cro for a few seconds, his red pupils seeming to blaze with reflected fire, then turned and began walking to the Garagats. "Jus' git 'em runnin', Fixer."
Cro personally checked the remaining Stickers, bending the bars to what he thought was the proper position, then put them back on line. And none too soon. The Goat's Head had just bashed the doors its sixth time, and the bolt finally gave way. The ladder pigs had moved away from the north side of the wall toward the gate, having dropped off their cargo of ladders and Hell Dogs. A few buckets of flaming tar were thrown down on them from the walls earlier, but with the attack's surprise, little damage was incurred. With one more strike, the portals finally let loose, falling from their hinges inward. The Goat's Head was pulled back slightly to allow the Pigs to turn the corner and head into the opening. They could only manage a file of one abreast, but were on each other's heels.
The strange vehicles lumbered forth like mad armadillos, taking bolt after bolt of crossbow fire with no ill effects. As Oluks and Bazoks closed in on the wooden beasts, however, they were greeted by more pairs of flaming tar balls from the repositioned Flinger and a Smoker keg. The lead Pig was hit with one tar ball, scattering the orcs toward the rear and out of cover. Most of them ran fast enough to reach the second pig, as the Oluks weren't able to react fast enough. But a few Haigrog orcs weren't so lucky, and fell to crossbows.
The first pig stopped the file from moving, however. It took a few precious seconds for the second to push it aside, but soon it was able to continue. The full force of the Pig Stickers was brought to bear on the gate, chasing the defenders back.
Pulo and Nagrat, walking beneath the northernmost Garagat, noticed that the initial attack was successful, but that the Pigs would be only so successful at transporting troops into the city without a lot of loss. Just then, Pulo grabbed Nagrat's shirt and pulled him over to the side nearest the gate, his eyes wide with excitement.
"Naggy - I just got me a brilliant idea!"
Nagrat looked at his underling, surprised at the familiarty. "It's Nagrat, Pulo. Don't fergit it - yer good at whatcha do, butcha ain't my drinkin buddy! I'd as soon cut ya as look at ya."
"Yeah, yeah, . . .but listen, Nagrat. We can't git da Garagats in thru the gate, 'cause they're made ta reach over the wall, right?"
Nagrat frowned, but agreed to listen. "Yeah, so what?"
Pulo pointed upward. "I can climb up 'ere an' pull da pin, we can push off da neck, an' we kin walk 'em right in ta town, wit Dogs inside!"
Nagrat's eyes widened. "I knew I kept ya around fer somethin', ya short pile o' dung. Let's git 'er done!"
While Pulo ordered the Smashers to fill the water box and stoke the boiler, Nagrat yelled to a captain and told him of his plan, and the Fang ordered dozens of Dogs onto the "horse." Pulo and Nagrat crawled to the top of the body and punched the pin. They pried up on the front of the neck, allowing it to fall back onto the body, then pushed it off. As the Dogs were boarding, Nagrat started to climb inside to direct the boiler crew. But as he got to the rear door, he looked up to Pulo, who was making his way down. "Hey, dung pile - get yer arse in 'ere - it's yer idea, you run da crew!" Pulo smiled as Nagrat dropped to the ground to watch.
Under a steady rain of crossbow fire from atop the wall, the orcs of Gorug dropped back along the north side. Fire balls from the Flinger kept flying deeper into the city, leaving the eastern quarter of the city on fire. Even the ground, still wet from rains, burned with pitch and tar. The command post was nearly burned out of any flammable material, and the only thing preventing the Haigrogian forces from running amok was a line of Bazoks and Oluks reforming into a solid group directly inside the gate and retreating from the Pigs, ready to die for their cause. There was even a strangely mutated troll or two in their number, the great beasts crossed with who-knew-what other creatures.
"What the hell are ya doin', Nagrat? Ya Fixers think ya can change battle plans, now?" Yurt was livid as the Garagat marched forward and began turning into the opening. Nagrat trotted along behind and underneath the gargantuan walking box. He turned to the Higdum.
"If yer gonna kill me fer this, boss, at least wait 'till da fightin's over. It's gonna work! Besides. . ." He pointed off to the southeast corner of the castle. A straggling force of defenders had begun to round the corner toward the second Garagat. ". . .we're gonna need some dogs over dere!"
Yurt turned to see the Gorugians marching toward them. He whistled to a Fang captain, who had already alerted his orcs and was headed toward them. Yurt looked back at Nagrat. "Jus' go git 'em, Fixer. If yer wrong, I'll gut ya, slow-like!" He turned toward the south, toward his troops.
Cro saw the headless Garagat head into the gateless hole in the wall. He ordered his Stickers to pull forward, and the yokes were picked up by Dog, Fixer and Smasher alike as they pulled their ballistae toward the doorway. About twenty yards in front of the wall, the first two were stopped to give the others cover. Two others turned to the north to intercept a flank of defenders from the northeast corner, while the last one followed behind, and almost beneath, the Garagat. The first two then followed close behind.
What must have appeared to be a zoo gone wild was the scene from the inside of the fortress. The pigs, traveling like rhinos, moved to flank the defenders. The garagat, looking more like an elephant, walked up the center of the field, crushing anything in its way. And the cavalry of Stickers moved, then fired, then moved again. The Oluks backed up further, not knowing how to attack such a strange menagerie.
Outside the walls, the second Garagat turned toward the defenders, now amassing on the southeast corner in greater numbers than expected. Yurt drove his Dogs forward, engaging the Orcs, Bazoks, Oluks, and troll-monsters. Tick, just recently elevated to the position of driver, pushed the machine to its limits, ordering more water, more coal, more speed. The horse ran fully into the Gorug force, scattering the lucky, crushing those who were not. Yurt turned his orcs aside, letting the Garagat rush forth. Tick saw the position of the troops through the driver's slits and turned left to crush a few more. As it turned, more defenders were smashed by the feet. Yurt moved to the front of the line, motioning his soldiers to retreat slightly, lest they become mere bloody dots in the footprints.
At that instant, a shrill squeal was heard inside. Tick looked to the boiler - he had been told about the sound of a failure, but only by living through it can one fully appreciate the blood-curdling sound. The trouble was, few lived to describe the sound.
The boiler burst in a cataclysmic explosion. Steel shards ripped through flesh and wood, blasting pieces of the shell down onto the defenders. The Dogs ducked for cover, and having retreated already, were hit with little shrapnel. Yurt wasn't so lucky. One of the control levers was ripped loose by the explosion and flew right toward Yurt's head. The quick reflexes of the orc leader saved the orc-temporarily. He jerked his head downward and managed to avoid a lethal hit by the lever. Still, though, it dealt him a heavy blow, bringing the black blood flowing into his eyes and knocking him to his back. And Cro saw his chance. When Yurt wiped away the blood that clouded his vision, the first thing he beheld was the evilly grinning Cro towering over him. It was also the last thing he saw, as the weapon of the Fixer leader lashed down and sent the head of Yurt rolling. As Cro watched the visage of his enemy tumble through the mud, he spat on the ground, and his grin widened. There were no Red Fangs around to see the murder. Cro was an orc through and through, and he congratulated himself on not fighting fair. He stalked off to join his troops.
The remaining Dogs finished off the Oluks, the few that survived. Inside, the first Garagat stomped forward through the line. Not moving as fast, it wasn't in danger of steam failure, but it still moved fast enough to smear several of the soldiers and split them into two smaller, less controllable flanks. Spears from the Stickers took casualties, as the Haigrogians came out of the Pigs to engage the Oluks, Bazoks, and troll-beasts who were now confused and ineffective. The orcs aboard the Garagat spewed out like rats from a grain bin, cleaving and rending flesh all about them.
The fight was over. Dogs swarmed the castle, tearing and burning, killing and raping, satisfying their most basic orcish instincts, which were base indeed. Soon, all that was left was some castle walls and piles of rock where houses once stood.
Cro assumed command, and no one argued. He and the Fangs found some Hargoxians willing to talk; they rooted out the Empty Tusk members with ruthless efficiency, torturing them for hours and leaving them impaled and dying. Pulo became a full-fledged Garagat commander, as there was room when Nagrat moved up to lead the Fixers.
Some Oluk Orcs made their way out of the other end of the fortress, scattering through the fields all the way to the sea. But deep in the labyrinth under what was Gorug, unbeknownst to Cro, lay dozens of Bazoks and Oluks, drugged into a long sleep by the few wizards and Oluk leaders left, plotting, waiting. Their time was to come, for Cro's orcs never found the breeding pits wherein the legions of strange abominations loyal to Gorug lay waiting . . . .