|Artwork © Claudia McKinney|
Flaming arrows whirred through the air, knifing into the advancing trees.
“Do not aim high; you will not slow them,” the hunter cautioned.
“Then what do you suggest we do?” Lord Vangley asked.
“Roots are used for balance, and are the most sensitive of extremities. Cut their base, and they will fall. Tie them down as they rise, and then burn them like firewood,” Lawson replied.
“Lower the culverins!” Vangley shouted, but it was too late. Cannons shelled the trees, shearing off branches, and blasting holes in the trunks; but the willows continued edging forward. “Aim for the base, you fools!”
The Muslim turned, catching the patriarch’s biting remarks in the wind. “Lower your marks, gentlemen.” He ran forward, jumping atop the barrel, and pressing down with all his weight. “Take out the roots.”
Dozens of burning trees plodded along, towering over the battlefield.
“Take cover,” a soldier yelled as a second volley of quills rained down. The Wickwoods turned, confused that they were absorbing the brunt of the salvo.
“The advantage is ours.” Talmot lowered his shield. “Reposition the culverins,” he screamed as the tree before him exploded, throwing him back.
“Catapults cease fire!” Lord Vangley called from a distance. “You’re too close to the trees.”
One of Vangley’s guards fell to a knee. “Sorry, sir. I was too slow with my shield,” he mumbled, pulling quills from his thigh.
“Brother, do not move. You will only hasten the poison.” Laurent came to his aid. As he took his shield, a mass of purple flesh sprang forward, and buried itself in the fallen guard’s chest.
The elder unsheathed his canesword, stabbing the tongue as it burrowed deeper, and snipping off the guard’s head. “I am sorry, dear friend.” Vangley turned back to the battlefield.
In the distance, Talmot hacked the tongues to pieces as they threaded through the earth, and leapt out.
“Father, we must fall back. You are too exposed,” said Laurent.
“In Vissorouy’s finest moment? The moment that we reclaim our town? Never,” he uttered. “I refuse to cower in this dark hour. I will load the culverins myself if I have to.” Vangley tightened his grip around his sword.
“Fire at will!” Talmot raised the stump of his arm, tiny vines and leaves poking out of the bandage.
“Shatter their base,” Lord Vangley cried. “For your families, and all of Vissorouy!” The elder’s words hung over the battlefield as the Wickwoods met the culverins, and swung down.
Cannonfire erupted, one after another in rapid succession. Roots and splinters flew into the air, the wicked willows slamming into the frontline.
“We’ve opened a wound.” Talmot sheared the growth from his stump. “Catapults, resume your volley,” he shouted.
Soldiers doused the fallen trees in oil as they wriggled, feeding the flames. The Wickwoods hissed, unable to get their weight under them, only a few managing to crawl away on their branches.
“Do not let them escape. They will plant more seeds, and harvest armies,” said Lawson. “Use your nets; we will build more.”
“Nets,” Vangley yelled reluctantly.
“Nets,” Talmot parroted to his troops.
Soldiers snared the fleeing Wickwoods, tying the nets to their steeds, and dragging the trees onto their backs.
“General, you must seek better treatment.” A field medic examined Talmot’s arm. “You are beyond my care.”
“I will not stop until I have Enura’s head in hand, and Essinger by my side.” The Muslim stared at the flailing Wickwoods. “What is that?” He noticed a sparkle amid the flames in the distance. “Could those be the tangle gems that Lawson spoke of?”
“Apparently they produce the brambles.” The medic adjusted Talmot’s bandage.
“Indeed.” Talmot grabbed a stone hammer lying by the wheel of a culverin. “Now I understand why counsel insisted that we carry these. Let’s have a go of it, shall we?” He sprinted forward, and jumped into the flames.