Moss flakes and bits of dew-damp earth fell away from the rock as it flew. It struck true, but Godwin did not waste time watching. The giant flying monster - some kind of giant beetle - took the rock square in its thorax, and fell to the broken field stunned. Godwin was halfway there, running full tilt, roaring a frothy battle cry. Behind him came his brethren Garu, some sporting metallic gloves over their paws, others whirling tree trunks and banded clubs in the air. Behind them, a team of centaur archers plucked arrows from ironwood shortbows into the advancing green-skinned horde that tromped towards them.
The grasslands that stretched west of the Wood towards old Valdac were empty a week ago. Now the windswept expanse was trampled under the feet of soldiers, mail and plate monstrosities the likes of which Godwin and his kindred had never seen. No communication had been made, no attempt at parlay. Godwin understood their intent as soon as he heard the initial reports: they came for the Nora fonts. They came to despoil the forest. They would leave with their dead and nothing more, the Garu swore.
Godwin leapt to clear the distance between him and the fallen dragon-beetle, bringing his furry shoulder to crash into the monster's chitinous muzzle. Immediately he wrapped his arms around the creature's maw, clenching its mandibles shut through brute force alone. The creature tried to shake him off, but Godwin pulled back, setting a leg up on the serpentine neck and wrenched the head back. A resounding crack answered his action as the monster writhed one last time. Godwin dropped the lifeless hulk and turned around as he saw his brethren taking up positions around the giant insect's corpse.
He wasted no time, running up along the monster's back until he stood atop the body. "They come no further than here!" He roared, looking about at the gathered Garu, "The dead shall stain this field, but none shall pass into the Mother Wood! For K'Thir!"
The Garu braves hooted around him, beating their chests, hurling their boulders in another volley. Those who found themselves empty-handed started prying off the legs and wings of the dragon-beetle's body to wield as weapons against the snake-skinned dragon-men as they advanced.
The lines of mailed soldiers broke into a run, bearing on the Garu brethren like a stormcloud of steel and fury. The Garu stood their ground, roaring like cornered beasts. Godwin leapt down from the top of the insect's corpse to stand before them, a tower of muscle and wrath standing against the tidal wave of corruption that bore down on them. The lines met with a thunderous clash.
Godwin's fists turned the soldiers' helms concave as they struck foe after foe. The elder Garu looked up as a screaming footman jumped towards him, a barbed spear aimed to run him through. He stepped away from the stab, bringing his mighty paw up to snatch the snake-skinned fighter out of the air and slam him once into the ground. The Garu felt a crunch as he clenched his fist more tightly around the soldier's head, lifting the limp body off the ground only to pitch it back into the fray. He picked up the discarded spear and threw it as well, skewering two more enemies fighting nearby.
A fearsome scream pierced the air behind him, and Godwin spun to see another footman leap towards him. He was off-balance and couldn't get an arm up in time... all he could was try to lessen the blow... only it never landed. A pair of arrows struck the soldier in his back, pitching forward as the scream died in his throat. Godwin looked back to the line of centaurs and saw two salute him quickly before returning to their volleys. Godwin himself turned back to the fray, flexing his fists.
The elder garu roared once again, and waded into the battle.
The battle went through the afternoon, until once again the enemy sounded a retreat as the sun began to set. The enemy soldiers limped away, pursued by more Garu warriors until Godwin's shout stopped them. As the braves gathered around their blood-spattered leader once again, the elder Garu looked about, dismayed.
There were fewer Garu standing than had run with Godwin at the start of the battle. Amongst the ruined field of bodies that spread before him, many were green and scaly but more than a few were garu, or centaur. What he did not see were elves. A growl passed his lips before he looked to his braves once again.
"No quarter," he commanded. "These snake-men's bodies are more persistent than roaches. Kill any that still draw breath, no matter how wretched. Bring our wounded back to the Bulwark for healing, and our dead as well." With that, he turned and began to stalk back towards the line of the forest.
The centaur commander, Filloc, fell into line next to Godwin as he strode.
"Four days of this," the centaur sneered, "when we know they have enough troops to just run over us completely. What kind of game is this?"
"Whatever it is, we can't play it for long. Someone must go to the Eternal Circle to request aid. We lose more fighters by the day while the elves do nothing."
"The wildkin wouldn't appreciate hearing you say that."
"The wildkin weren't dying on that field today, Filloc!"
"Because you ordered them to protect the westernmost fonts. Don't doubt their loyalty simply because you haven't seen their blood."
"It's not the blood of wildkin I want to see."
"Then you should go the Circle. You have dealt with the high elves before, they would listen to you."
"You act like familiarity means friendship."
"It's not friendship that should call the elves to defend K'Thir. It is duty. The same duty we all share, centaur, garu, elves, the fae..."
"Then I will go, as soon as we've secured the Reach."
"That could take too long, and the risk of losing ground to them is too great. You should go now, Godwin. The archway portals will get you there fast enough, but they only work in daylight."
"But who will lead?"
"You have lieutenants. Ironhead or Bjorn would be good choices. Either way, the sooner you go, the sooner you return."
"Then I'll make for the archway once I've briefed Ironhead."
"I'm sure he'll be overjoyed at the promotion."
Godwin grumbled in response as he walked, while Filloc chuckled in return.
"Winds with you, Godwin. We shall hold them here."
"I shall be back before another sun sets. Winds with you, Filloc."
Godwin stalked up the stairway towards the stone archway, ignoring the robed elven attendants that attempted to call his attention. His paws were clenched tightly, his black eyes intent on the archway, and only mildly concerned with the two armored guards standing watch beside it.
"Two days I've waited while my people fight to protect the Mother Wood. I will wait no longer!"
The sentinels both took a step forward, crossing their ornate lances before the archway portal. Godwin stopped before them long enough to regard each soldier individually, his growl growing every second. "Let me pass," he said through clenched teeth, "Or I'll..."
The sentinels lifted their lances and stood aside, and just as Godwin got over the momentary surprise at their lenience, his eyes caught a flash of light as a figure emerged from the portal.
"'Or you will...' what, elder?" the robed elf intoned, his etched faced a humorless mask.
"Councilor Darius," Godwin said, forcibly pushing his voice from an angered yell to a conversational growl, "I have waited too long for an audience with the War Council. I must insist on my admittance so they may know of the threat we face."
"You speak of armed snake-scaled warriors, riding against the Western Reach from the lands of Valdac?"
"You know of the draksar?"
"Our scouts in the Reach have informed us of the disturbance."
Godwin's eyes narrowed. Of course the Circle would call the draksar a simple 'disturbance.' Still... "Then there's no time to waste. Grant me rangers to assist my people in driving off their forces and securing the Reach."
"I shall suggest this to the War Council, but I am afraid the request will not be granted. Your forces are already bolstered with the centaur tribesmen and the local wild elves. There is no need to waste the efforts of our elite rangers when you have the situation so well in hand."
Godwin's jaw clenched as he spoke slowly, taking a step forward to tower over the elf: "I am interested in learning why I've waited two days to be told this."
"The council has been in constant deliberation concerning a larger threat. It has been agreed that this threat precludes sending any troops to the west when your people have already mounted a sizable defense against the invaders."
"By sheer luck and guile alone! We will not hold the Reach for long while their numbers swell with reinforcements and I lose more of my people by the hour. I will speak to the Council and argue my case."
"I'm afraid that's impossible. The Council deliberates still. We cannot admit an interruption today."
"An interruption?" Godwin felt his arm tense - his body demanded that he bat this pathetic worm and his cronies aside and walk through the portal, but his mind somehow remained in control. "I bring news from your allies of an impending invasion! That is not an interruption of the Council's business, Darius; that is the very business of the Council!"
"This discussion is pointless. The Council is already aware of the threat posed by the draksar. And the Council commends the Garu people for their valiant efforts in containing them, while it attends to matters more threatening to the safety of K'Thir."
Godwin's voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "What can be more threatening than an invasion, Darius?"
"An invasion of elves, Elder."
Godwin stood still, regarding Darius' unmoving face closely. He didn't know whether to laugh out loud or take the elf at his word. Again the beast within wanted to knock Darius off the platform, but Godwin opted to remain the diplomat once again.
"Of sorts. That is the true threat that the Council plans against as we speak."
Again with the sideways speech. Godwin growled and loomed over Darius again. "This is an outrage! What is the purpose of our alliance if you will not share information on a threat to the Mother Wood? All your reticence tells me is that the Garu are not trusted in our joint defense."
"Information regarding the Nefari is very sensitive. It has the potential to cause a panic amongst our people, which no one wants. As you have said, you are already embattled in containing the draksar threat. The War Council anticipated you would be unable to render us any aid..."
"How insightful. I appreciate you being so forthcoming upon my arrival so that I, as war chief of my people, was not kept too long away from the battle to protect your hides!"
"Your rage is unfounded, Elder Godwin. Your impatience speaks poorly of your kind."
"Some of us count lifetimes in years and decades, Darius, not centuries. And in battle, it is days, hours, minutes that are most critical. And I've wasted enough of those on your Council. I shall not ask for any more aid, but should this insurrection of yours go poorly, don't expect my people to leap to your defense. Our duty is to the Wood, not your Circle."
With that, Godwin turned and walked away. Behind him, another flash of light appeared in his peripheral vision. He heard an attendant speak to Darius: "Councillor, the recess has ended. Your presence is required."
"I shall return momentarily. Elder Godwin!" the elf called, and the garu stopped without looking back. "Should I take your words to the council that our alliance is ended?"
Godwin sneered, looking over his shoulder at the elves before the stone archway. "We have the common goal of protecting K'Thir, councilor. We are allied in that sense. But you have made it clear that you can neither render aid nor petition your allies for it, as I have done. Tell your council we shall fight to protect the Wood, and we shall expect you to do the same. That is all."
To his surprise, Darius said nothing, but bowed towards the elder, then turned to disappear with the attendant into the stone archway. Godwin stood still for only a moment before turning to continue away from the archway and make his way back to the Reach, the battle, and his people.
They would not appreciate this news, but they would agree with what he said to Darius - the Wood was what mattered. More than anything else, K'Thir must be kept safe, and if that was a fight the garu would fight alone with their few woodland allies, it would be all they could do.
War had shattered the tranquility of the Wood, but now, it seemed that only war would return it. Godwin ignored the irony as he strode to the western edge of the Circlehold and set his thoughts to the Reach. How had Ironhead fared in leading the fight? Had they held against the draksar? Two guards standing at the archway leading back to the front raised their spears in trite salutes as he lumbered past them.