1819 and All That

In January 1819 AUC, old King Edward died. He had spent his life fighting the orcs and trolls that every year threatened to overrun his realm. As he grew older and it was evident that he would die childless, he met in secret with the young Duke William of Normandy. William’s father had given sanctuary to Edward in earlier years, when the young king had been driven out by the Ing the Trollking, and the two men had a mutual respect.

When Edward died, word was at once sent to Normandy, but that lord was busy with his own internal rebellions and border wars, and it was some time before he could even begin to think of claiming his British throne. Besides, crossing the Channel in winter in any kind of force was out of the question.

Meantime, Britain was being overrun by trolls. They occupied and looted London. They gave ogre raiders free reign. They burned castles by the dozens. Humans and dwarves alike ran when they could, hid when they could, and fought when they had to. They could defend themselves at need, but utterly lacked the resources to drive the trolls out, so long as Ing unified and led them.

William’s fleet was ready by August, but contrary winds kept his entire army at port until late September. By that time, much of southern Angleland had been devastated, for the trolls were determined to deny William any sustenance.

William landed at Hastings and immediately built a fortress. Ing knew William was coming, and had had an army at the ready. But as August slipped away and then much of September, so did Ing’s followers. Captain by captain they decided that sitting in camp was boring. By the time the Normans landed a significant portion of the troll army had melted away, and most of the ogre auxiliaries had left. When word came of the Norman landing at Hastings, Ing at once put out the call, and many did indeed return.

The battle fell on 25 September 1819 AUC. It was a hard-fought battle that lasted the entire day. Ing commanded from a low hill, surrounded by the famous troll shieldwall. The Norman knights were able slowly to win the advantage on the open ground, though every inch was won with blood. The Norman knights had armor that protected them from the worst of troll magic, and their mancers had both protection spells and attack magic. The lines rolled back and forth between the two camps. At one point, rumor swept the Norman ranks that William had been killed. The fight wavered and hung until William, necessarily reckless, rode through the battle with his helm off so that his men could see that he still lived. This rallied them so effectively that he led a charge that actually reached the hillock.

But there it was turned back. The troll shieldwall appeared to be impervious to the Norman assault. Many knights died trying to break it. At last, towards sunset, William led a final charge that deeply engaged the enemy. Many of the remaining ogres had been driven from the field, though they would certainly return. William used the opportunity to so entangle the trolls that he was able to entice them to pursue him once he called retreat. This was a ruse, of course, and once he’d gotten them to break the shield wall, William counter-attacked. With the protection of the great troll shields gone, the Norman archers were able to find their marks and they began attacking the commanders. One arrow–legend says its mark was lit up by the last rays of the sun–found Ing himself, and he fell with an arrow through the eye.

With the shieldwall broken and their warlord dead, the trolls broke and ran. William’s men pursued them through the darkness, and grim work was done by the light of the waxing moon. William was sure he would be attacked again and spent the night re-grouping his forces for a renewed contest.

It never came. The trolls army vanished and the ogres returned to their fens and caves. William spent a few days at Hastings, securing the surrounding region, then he marched on London.

There he was welcomed with rejoicing and was proclaimed King of the Britons. His coronation was set for New Year’s Eve. But he hardly had time to do more than catch his breath before word of disaster reached him: Dragons had landed on the Humber River, seemingly in cooperation with duergar, and the North was overrun.

The situation appeared hopeless and panic swept the city. William again demonstrated his qualities as leader. He quelled the panic, sometimes, it must be admitted, by using a heavy hand, while at the same time he brought his army into the field again and fearlessly marched north to confront the danger to his new realm.

Stamford Bridge

The two battles at Stamford Bridge are one of the great turning points of the Middle Age. Indeed, October 12/13, 1819 AUC, is the customary date for the end of the Second Dark Age. William at the very least saved Britain from the dragons, and probably saved much more. At the same time, the old Britain-the Britain of Alfred and Canute-was irretrievably gone. The Norman Conquest is the great turning point in the history of the island.

In the beginning, though, it looked to be little more than an interesting footnote, for no one had any reason to believe William could prevail against the great wing of dragons that had invaded Northumbria. He had perhaps nine thousand men under arms, about a third of whom were dwarves. Even the elves of Sherwood joined his ranks as he marched north, but they were few in number.

The enemy he was marching to meet was extraordinary-unique, really. It was led by the duergar king Hardraada, who it is said had learned a secret method for bending dragons to his will. No one knows what that secret was, or if it even existed. We do know that Hardraada was able to get many dragons to attack where and when he wanted them to and that by such means he wreaked a swath of terror and destruction that stretched from Norway to the Black Sea. The duergar king was ferocious, even for that fierce race, and he was acknowledged by clan lords at the root of many mountains. Eventually, though, he settled down to aiming for control of the entire North Sea. He already had Norway firmly in hand, and Danemark soon followed, though as usual the Frisians were able to maintain a precarious independence in their swamps and islands.

When he saw what was happening in Britain, he decided he would make a try there. Knowing the task would require great force, he assembled three hundred dragons at his command. Only the greatest could fly the entire distance, and many-perhaps a quarter-could not fly at all. He had special ships built whose main purpose was to carry food and to provide a landing place for the lesser Dragons. He also fielded an army of perhaps a thousand duergar and about ten thousand kobolds. This is the force that landed at the mouth of the Humber River at the end of September 1819.

Hardraada was aided by treachery among the Britons: Earl Tostig, Lord of the North, as he styled himself, schemed with the duergar. He had his own claims to the British (Anglish) throne and deeply resented that William had been designated the legal heir. His idea was that the duergar would be content with the North Country. They would help him seize the throne and become King of the Anglish. Then, later, he could turn coat and make war upon Hardraada. Tostig played an important role in ensuring that the duergar made a safe landing at Ricall and he kept rumors of the impending invasion from reaching William’s ears. He never dreamed of seeing three hundred dragons in his beloved Yorkshire!

Ironically, had the dragons obeyed their natural instincts, William’s army might well have been wrecked long before it reached Lincolnshire, for an army on the march is hard-put to defend itself against the great flying beasts. Instead, Hardraada kept them close, assaulting castles and reducing the city of York to near rubble. So it was that William arrived in the north with his army intact.

What were his plans? We don’t really know. All the chroniclers, naturally, speak as if William planned matters as they actually turned out, but this seems unlikely. Still, there are those who argue that the great fog that settled over the valley was mancer-work. Legends speak of an elven sorcerer who could command the air, and it was she who threw a grey blanket over the battlefield. We will never know for sure.

What we do know is as simple as it is remarkable. William spoke to his men the night before the battle, because he knew that in the morning there would be no time. He spoke bluntly: the enemy were numerous and dangerous. No one had ever faced such a foe. But they should take heart. They were great warriors and the gods of war are wayward.

In the morning, the fog had arrived. Hardraada attacked anyway, sending his Dragons aloft, but they could see nothing. When they did attack, they were as likely to strike among the kobolds as among the humans. Sometimes they ran into one another and a shrieking fight would erupt in mid-air. Some got hopelessly lost and settled down to munch on a cow or sheep. Whatever hold Hardraada had over the dragons was lost in the heavy fog.

The ground dragons actually caused more harm than did the flying ones, simply because they were accustomed to fighting on the ground. Here, the Norman cavalry showed its mettle, as knights charged the lizards with their lances, the great war horses striking with hoof and tooth. Elven archers put down their bows and did fearsome work with their long knives. The dwarves anchored the left flank and made sure none escaped on that side. By mid-afternoon, the flying dragons had either left or had landed and were trying to fight on foot. It was terrifying enough to encounter a monstrous red or green dragon in the fog, but the Normans quickly developed a tactic of keeping its attention from the front while mounted lancers attacked from the flanks.

Evening came, though it had been dark enough all day. Kobold gangs attacked sporadically all through the night, but William guessed rightly that they were only covering a duergar retreat. Relying on elven patrols, William was able to track that retreat. At sunrise, the land still shrouded in fog, William launched at attack on the duergar ring-fort that was their traditional strongpoint they always built. With the dragons ineffective and the kobolds scattered and uncertain, a hard-fought battle developed that lasted for most of a second day. Mid-afternoon, the fog abated even as the Normans at last broke through.

The duergar were all killed. They found Hardraada’s body and William took his body armor as a prize. It can still be seen in the Tower of London.

The kobolds scattered. Some made it into the back country, but most were hunted down in the weeks that followed, and few made it through the winter, which was as harsh as in living memory.

Twenty-four dragon bodies were recovered, including four Reds and two Greens. The rest escaped. Some went into the Pennines and even as far as Wales, but most went to the Scottish highlands, from where they harassed and terrorized the North Country for many long years.