The Long Retreat No. 4

“What do we do?” Alfhilde whispered, tightening her grip on her hatchet.

Falthejn held a finger to his lips and regarded the scene before them. Twenty yards of open ground separated them from the base of the wall. From there to the gate was another ten yards to the left. The gatehouse had collapsed into the plaza before the gate, a measure of cover if they could get that far.

Half of the gate itself stood open, and Falthejn tried to make sense of the shattered mechanisms now exposed at its top, where the gatehouse had once covered. The army had arrived two weeks ago, passing through to the front further south, and the city guard had demonstrated the machinery for the war-leaders and magiker among the ranks. The gate was opened by means of windlasses, pulling counterweights high into the air on heavy chains at the same time. The guards could slam the gates closed in the space of a few heartbeats by releasing the ratchets, letting the counterweights drop to pull the gates shut.

Now, though, the delicate devices lay twisted and shattered amidst the rubble. One counterweight hung low on the chain, its half of the gate correspondingly closed. A ramshackle structure, debris and logs improbably lashed together, held the other counterweight high enough to keep the other half of the gate open. It looked like it might fall apart at the slightest touch, but Falthejn knew the ontr had a knack for siege works beyond any reasonable expectation.

He turned his attention back to the ontr guards. Three of them stood watch, wearing the patchwork armor of their kind. Were it not for their height and bulk, and the vague suggestion of dark, mottled skin, they could almost be mistaken for human. They carried roughly-made two-headed axes. A stand-up fight would never work. He had to draw the guards away. His gaze drifted back up the wall, to the precariously-balanced remains of the gatehouse. The timing would be close, but the plan coming together in his head seemed as though it might work.

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