The following story is being told around the campfires and in the taverns of the Sutherlands. These events are said to have occurred on March 16th, 659…
The Battle of Botan
A lone figure wandered down the moonlit roadway toward Botan. Her wooden staff thudded against the hard-packed dirt as she walked. Her name was Thalia and she was on a mission. Ignoring the silent shadows that followed her, she held her wicker basket tight against her waist as she pressed on, waiting for the inevitable.
When it came, she was prepared and unafraid. From the thicket-lined roadside, a voice called out in hushed tones,
“State your business in Botan.”
Her voice steady, Thalia calmly replied,
“I’m here for the wounded. If you check my basket, you will find my herbs and poultices.”
Without sound, a lone figure stepped into the moonlight. His lithe form was clad in the dark greens and browns of the forester. A bow was slung over his shoulder and an empty scabbard hung from his hip. Pointing his sword at Thalia, the Elf slowly approached. With a slight flick of the sword tip, he slid the cover off of Thalia’s basket. His eyes locked on hers while he reached inside and pulled out a small parcel. He held it to his nose and caught the scent. Sword lowered, he said,
“Cynthium flower… good for infection. You may pass, but stay on the main road.”
With a slight bow, Thalia offered her thanks and resumed the journey. She soon found herself on the outskirt fields of the old Sudbyrian fortress. What lay before her troubled her deeply. The fortress of Botan was entirely encircled in a dense hardwood forest. The trees stretched toward Sahde as far as the eye could see. To her recollection, the old Orc structure and its surrounding habitations lay in an open field, with little tree growth. This forest wall entirely obscured her view of Botan proper. Between her and this new forest stood hundreds of white canvas tents in neatly ordered rows. The smell of cookpots wafted through the air and Elven patrols went to and fro. Countless people aimlessly shuffled amidst the rows. Even in the darkness, she could still see the pillars of smoke climbing high above where the fortress should be. She grimaced at the blended smell of burning flesh and wood. She hated the pyres, but the dead must be disposed of. Covering her mouth with a handkerchief, she made her way into the tent rows ringing the old Orc stronghold’s new forest.
When she inquired of the people, many just stared blankly at her. Some even yelled at her. Finally, she found a man that was gruffly receptive to her questions. She explained that she was an alchemist and sought to ply her curatives on the wounded. His son had been hurt in the fighting and badly needed treatment, so Thalia followed him to a large tent in the middle of the rows. Lying fitfully was a small boy of six or seven years. His leg had been severed below the knee. Gasping, Thalia sat down her basket and kneeled beside the small pallet. Wiping sweat from the boy’s forehead, she checked his temperature and found it too warm. She softly asked for fresh water and set to work on the boy. When the father returned with a basin, he began to talk quietly as Thalia worked,
“You know, I cannot imagine a time without the Sovereign. I’ve lived under his reign my entire life, but I was raised with stories of the old ways, the old days. Still I cannot picture it. My grandmother secretly taught me that the Faithful would one day save us from this terrible place. But, oh, I was wrong. They finally came for us, but ‘they’ were not who I expected. It all happened at dusk three days ago; I was in westwood picking berries. Before I knew it, I had a blade pressed to the back of my neck. Let me tell you, I was terrified and nearly wet myself. Next thing I know, I’m spun around and facing three Elves! They were intent on murder, I’m sure, but the robed one stopped them. He said something about ‘the truth’ and waved his hand at me. I felt a strange tingling come over me, like pin pricks almost. He started to ask me questions and I felt compelled to answer him truthfully. I’m certain he was using magic on me. He mainly wanted to know if I was loyal to the Sovereign, but I’m not really, so I passed the test.
“Eventually, they told me to go deeper into the woods and to keep quiet. By this point, I was seriously worried about what was going on, but I did as I was told. As I pushed through the trees, I saw more and more of these strangers. The looks they gave me… chilled my heart, it did.
“In unison, these Elves started toward the fortress, blades bared. The next thing that happened scared me to death. See, I was leaning on a tree. A big oak. That damn thing started moving! It’s roots tore up from the ground and it started walking! Trees all around me did the same thing… I couldn’t believe my eyes. I mean, I’ve heard stories like that, but to see it? Damn. It seemed like the whole forest was alive!
“By that point, I knew I needed to see what was about to happen, so I followed. Stupid? Yes. Could I miss it? No! These damn fool Elves were about to attack Botan and I had a front row seat. On one hand, I wanted to see those uppity Elves get what was coming to them. On the other, I desperately wanted to be free from those damned undead. It was then that I really started to worry for my son and the others, but they knew how to get out of the way. The Sovereign taught us that the hard way. It was in fortune’s hands.
“So, the old fort isn’t completely walled up anymore. Some of it was smashed when the undead took over. It’s also surrounded by a ramshackle village I call home. Through the cover of darkness, these invaders could easily cross the distance to the village and get to the collapsed wall. The living trees made a new, moving woodline and the warriors darted from it through the habitations and toward the open walls. Before too long, I could hear the sounds of battle. Lo and behold, the same warriors that went in, came out running! I laughed a little because I thought they had been routed. As they ran back into this new ‘treeline,’ I realized what they were about. Hot on their heels came hundreds of skeletons! Once those old skulls hit the woods, the feeding frenzy started. The trees tore them limb from limb… It was something to see.
“The initial attack was a success, so they moved on to the next step. Archers began scrambling up into those living trees, while the warriors scattered among them. I don’t know how they got the message out, but the entire force began to move at once. I got the impression that the entire fortress might be surrounded. There I was, watching a forest invade Botan; I was angry because Elves were invading my home, but happy about it at the same time.
“By now, the fortress’ Necromancers and the undead were wise to what was happening. They turned out in force to fight. The Elves were lucky the Grimm Legion wasn’t here anymore, because that would have been a different story. That said, I was still a good distance behind the line, so I couldn’t make much out, but I did see one of the fortress’ lieutenants hurling terrible black magic at one of the trees. It split in half and fell into one of the vacant houses. For his efforts, he got an arrow to the eye socket. As the attackers pressed forward, I was awash in crumbled bones and slipping on blood. There were several score fallen attackers, too. I’ve seen death before, but it was weird to see it from behind an Elven line.
“You know, Botan isn’t a city, but it’s more than just a fortress. Along with the houses, the whole thing covers about a square mile. It wouldn’t normally take very long to span that distance, but fighting slows you down big time. Not to mention the pace of the treants… that said, eventually the attackers again made it inside the fort. I could see the garrison house from between the trees. By this time, I had become brave enough to get closer. I was maybe twenty feet from the woodline. I could see the treants and Elven warriors skirmishing with undead all over the courtyard. Death was in the air, but the Elves were winning.
“Then something happened. All I can remember is being stunned by a black flash of light. When I came to, my blood was chilled. To my surprise, the dozens of Elven warriors in the courtyard lay either dead or unconscious. The undead seemed to grow stronger; some skeletons reformed entirely. From behind me, I heard an order issued. A great many robed Elves rushed forward and began hurling fire, lightning, ice, and white light at the enemy. Ah, the sorcerers… they finally joined the fight.
“Between the archers and the sorcerers, the undead were finally crushed. Surely victory was at hand… but, oh, that was not the case. Remember that black flash of light? A thunderous moan filled the air and the huge double doors of the garrison house were smashed outward by some terrible force. They skidded across the courtyard, killing several warriors unfortunate enough to be in the way.
“Then there was that bastard, General Morgal… I could only recognize him by his robes, but I’m sure it was him. He was thinner than he should have been, his skin was dried and stretched taut over his face. Neck, hands, and the the visible parts of his arms were bandaged with white cloth. The worst part was his eyes… they glowed like firestones and I will never forget them. In his right hand, he carried an evil looking sword, made from bone and some black metal. It shone like the moon.
“From somewhere on the east side of the courtyard came the order to stand down. The elves and treants slowly retreated from the general. I could see the attacking force part and let someone through. At first, I thought it was one of the treants, just a small one. Upon closer inspection, I could see this was a person entirely encased in a dark, shining wood. It flowed around the person’s figure and moved as if alive! Ropey vines wrapped around legs and arms; every footstep saw their tendrils snake into cracks and earth of the ground. There was a green glow around this warrior; it reminded me of springtime. He… was it a he? It was hard to tell. In any case, he carried a white sword that shone like the sun in one hand and a strangely forged axe in the other. A sheathed dagger hung from his hip.
“My nerves were frayed by this point and I was seriously worried about this oak-clad warrior. How could he stand against the General? But I watched as they closed on one another and fought like nothing I’ve ever seen. Sword versus sword, white light versus black light, they clashed. At one point, with a mighty felling blow, the oak-clad warrior lopped off the left arm of his foe. Oh, the howls of rage that filled the courtyard! But that didn’t stop Morgal, and he pressed the attack. Wounded, the oak warrior staggered back and regained his footing. He charged the General, sword and axe raised to defend. Morgal viciously hacked downward with his sword, severing the defender’s axe in two pieces. That black sword blade lodged deeply into the oak warrior’s shoulder, knocking him to his knees. I thought the fight was over then, but there were tricks left up the Elf’s sleeve.
“Gloating, General Morgal closed on the oak one and tried to free his sword. He got too close. With a move like quicksilver, the Elf unsheathed his dagger, which burned like white fire, and jammed it deep under the General’s sternum. The undead howled in agony. White light poured out of his mouth and eyes. His skin began to flake and crumble. And just like that, he collapsed in a pile of dust. Wrenching that horrible blade out of his shoulder, the oak warrior stood and accepted the ministrations of his frantic healers. Staggering, he was led back into the woodline and I never saw him again. I’m still awestruck by the presence of that one, but who was it?
“I’m still surprised that one of the Sovereign’s more powerful undead did not come to aid in the battle. Where was the Executioner or the Exarch? Maybe it was beneath their notice, but you would think the loss of Botan would have merited some response from Marce’. In any case, we know that the Sovereign’s forces cannot get into the Darkwood, so maybe the same magic was at work here.
“Over the next two days, the elves spread out through Botan, looking for Sovereign sympathizers and loyalists. It didn’t go well for those folks, but some deserved it. The treants retreated and formed a ring around the entire fortress and its houses. If you look northwest, you’ll see that the woods now extend as far as the eye can see. It is like the Darkwood lashed out and engulfed Botan. Come to think of it, that is exactly what happened. Like elitist Elves do, they said it was not possible to stay in our homes. It’s because we’re human! They tried to tell me that the Darkwood wouldn’t let us in, but I’m wise to their racist ways. So, they set up these tents and forced us to evacuate our homes. I mean, so far they haven’t hurt anyone and they feed us, but to them, Elves are number one. We don’t know what our fate will be, but they have spoken of relocating us to somewhere “safe.” I’m sure that means somewhere without Elves.
“So, that’s how Botan was yanked from under the thumb of the Sovereign. Somewhere in there, my son lost his leg. Before he passed out from the pain, he said he had been trying to defend this little girl he plays with. Poor boy doesn’t know it, but she was killed by the skeletons. I’ll have to tell him when he wakens… he’s so young to bear such a thing, but he must be hardened by these three days. He’ll never forget the battle of Botan, nor will I.”
Thalia rose from the boy and wiped the blood from her hands. Thanking the man for his story, she explained how to clean the wound and apply the poultices, assuring the father his son would live. Gathering her things, she inquired about other injured citizens. Once she had a long list, she wandered back out into the tent rows of Botan to ply her trade.