Battle of Fort Dunstad (Part II)
Asa froze. Her bow was raised, her arrow notched, the string pulled back as far as her strength could sustain it. However, she didn't fire. When the Imperial cavalry had charged into the fort, she had been one of the first to react, immediately breaking away from their gathering before Cato shouted his warning to get off the road. Asa had led the archers onto the ramparts as the warriors on the ground struggled to keep the horsemen at bay. But now that they had all readied their weapons, she suddenly found herself back to her initial dilemma.
She had nothing to do with these bandits, wanted nothing to do with these bandits, other than some passing trade which benefited both parties. Now, she was stuck in the middle of a fight between them and the Imperial Legion. Asa never considered herself as an Imperial citizen. Formally she was one thanks to her birth in Skyrim, a province of the Empire, but she never even gave heed to the hunting rules of the local Jarls, let alone held loyalty to some far off Emperor. Nonetheless, she knew that these soldiers were responsible for keeping the Aldmeri Dominion from gaining complete control of Tamriel. From her encounter with the Dominion's representatives at the Shrine of Talos, she understood that would be an ill end for all except the High Elves and perhaps a select few other mer.
The bandits let loose their bowstrings, and their arrows flew across the courtyard of the fort, striking primarily at the steeds of the horsemen which presented larger and less armoured targets. The wounded beasts either collapsed or ran wild all around the fort, filling the night with their shrieks of pain. Within the small spaces of the courtyard, the fallen and crazed beasts broke the charge of the cavalry, forcing them to turn back. One rider and his steed though had managed to avoid being hit and continued trying to push forward.
The others around her began to notch more arrows, and Asa knew what their main target was going to be. One Nord man to her left had turned his attention to the eastern exterior of the fort and she figured that the main Imperial force must have shown up. She took no time to check, quickly adjusting her aim before the others could fully draw and released her arrow before everyone else's. It struck much truer than she expected, embedding itself in the neck of the last remaining rider as it found its way into a gap between his helmet and his armour. The legionnaire toppled from his horse and the steed turned and bolted just before the rest of the arrows rained down upon the courtyard.
Seeing the horse escape, Asa glanced to the other side of the wall. As she had suspected, rows of Imperial infantry lined up outside the eastern gate. The vanguard consisted of a line of heavily armoured legionnaires with their shields raised, though this was likely only as a precaution or perhaps a demonstration of their discipline by always keeping their defenses up. By the arrows that had fallen short of them in the snow and Asa's own experience with a bow, they were standing out of the range of archers from the fort. She didn't attempt to fire, saving her arrows in case they were needed when the infantry began to advance.
Asa turned back to the courtyard, where the dismounted horsemen were beginning to be overwhelmed by the numerous bandits. With their mounts gone they had lost the momentum of their charge entirely, and when more bandits streamed out from the interior of the fort, the result of the fight was clear cut. Their only chance was to open the eastern gate for the infantry force, and Asa did witness a legionnaire trying to do just that. The combat in the courtyard was too close quarters however, and neither Asa nor the other archers could take a shot for fear of hitting someone on their side. Fortunately, she saw Cato intercept the lone soldier and knock him out with a single blow from his shield. While the rest of the fort's inhabitants did not dispose of their foes so swiftly, it was not long before the fighting ceased.
Or at least, it ceased in the courtyard. When she glanced next across the palisade she saw a formation of legionnaires advancing towards the eastern gate, their shields raised in a pattern that almost completely protected them from incoming fire from the front, sides and even top. The other archers noticed this as well and eventually all turned to launch arrows at the incoming wall of shields. Asa joined in, knowing that they needed the extra chance to hit through the formation. The projectiles either stuck onto or bounced off the shields, shaking some of their bearers, but none managed to penetrate the wall and break the formation. Asa and the other archers readied another volley of arrows and fired again, once more to no avail.
Then, the formation broke on its own as all the shields at the front pulled aside to reveal two legionnaires at the centre wearing hoods and light armour. One of the archers shouted "Battlemages!" and Asa could hear Drubgurz's booming voice saying something, but her focus was on the hooded individuals. Seeing bright orange balls of fire in their hands, she knew exactly what they were up to and grabbed another arrow as quickly as she could. She fired before the soldiers could close their formation again and her arrow found its mark in the chest of one of the mages. By then, it was too late. Four blasts of flame slammed into the gate, setting it ablaze.
Drubgurz called for a retreat to the inside. The archers were already on the move when he gave his command as the fire began to spread from the gate to the wooden palisade walls. They sprinted up to the stone walls, then into the single standing tower of the old fort- the prison. They didn't bolt the doors immediately as several of the other archers stayed atop the walls, picking off the legionnaires from their vantage point when the Imperials finally broke through before ducking into the safety of the tower.
While the tower provided them with temporary shelter, they had nowhere else to go. They were on the middle of a long winding staircase, which led to the very top of the tower and the bottom which had another exit, though it simply led back out into the courtyard which was no doubt swarming with soldiers by now. The top provided a good nest for them to shoot down from, but it was a dead end- far too high to jump from.
"What now?" asked one of the archers.
"We go to the top of the tower, pick everyone off as they try to come up," proposed the Nord man who was beside Asa during the fighting.
"We'll do some damage, but we'll never pick off the whole damn Legion," an Imperial woman shook her head. "We'll be overrun eventually."
"Not like we have many other options," commented the archer who spoke first. "And we're not dealing with the whole Legion here, just a small force. We all know they've got better places to be after the war than here."
"They've got enough to outnumber us," the Imperial countered.
"We've got the high ground and we're in narrow spaces," the Nord man insisted. "Numbers aren't going to matter!"
"We have limited arrows, and the armoury's in the fort," stated the Imperial. "What happens when we run out? They've got spears, we've got a few swords and axes."
"I'm with her," another archer chimed in. "We'll never hold them off."
"Well what do you two suggest we do then? Surrender?!" the Nord stared at the Imperial woman. "You're a deserter, you'll be the first one they execute."
"I don't know!" she exclaimed. "Maybe we make for the armoury, that'll give us more of a fighting chance. Or just make a run for it."
"She's right," sounded yet another voice, this one far from the gathering of archers. This prompted all of them to turn around simultaneously, some reaching for their arrows while other grabbed weapons more fit for close quarters combat. They did not need them however as Cato stepped into the candlelight and revealed himself.
"What're you doing here Cato?" Asa asked. "You didn't come in with us so you didn't follow us up the walls, and I don't see Drub or any of the others with you."
"They're in the main fort," Cato informed them. "Drubgurz says he has a plan and the armoury is there, so I'm assuming it involves that. Either way, we're going to be pinned down in here once the Imperials get to both doors so I'm here to get you out."
"Fine," the Nord man relented. "But how are we going to get across there? The Legion's already broken through."
"We don't," Cato replied. "I've locked the lower entrance so that should slow them down. The eastern palisade is burning so the only way they can get up here is from the west, and they're more likely to go for the main fort first as its upper door is on that side. The legionnaires are all piling in, which means they aren't surrounding the fort. You must have rope in here somewhere, if we find a good place to tie it we can get off the walls before they get here."
The archers exchanged glances and all gave some form of nod or approval, unanimously agreeing that his plan was their best shot. They rapidly spread out around the prison, knowing their time was extremely limited. It didn't take more than a few seconds before one of them yelled that they had found rope and they regathered by the door.
"I've got a shield, I'll try to cover you if any archers fire on us," Cato said. "Let's go, as quick and quiet as we can."
Unlocking the door, Cato stepped out onto the walls first, his round shield raised to cover most of his upper body. In conjunction with the stone along the side of the walls, this gave his body almost full protection. When he saw that the area was clear, he motioned for the others to exit as well, and they silently crept out of the tower. They slowly made their way over the wall, looking for somewhere to tie a rope. Asa found a promising spot and waved the archer with the rope over, and he began to work on their course of escape.
It was then that two legionnaires at the far side of the wall sighted them. One of them called out and the other drew an arrow, firing across the courtyard. The soldier's aim was off due to the hastiness of her reaction and the shot missed Cato. In response, two of the bandit archers turned and fired back, one of the arrows also missing but the other striking the enemy archer in the knee, causing her to stumble and fall off the wall to her demise. However, the cry and the falling soldier had alerted the other Legion archers who assembled with astounding speed and discipline. Soon, the fort became a deadly crossfire.
Despite the higher elevation of the bandit archers, the legionnaires outnumbered them and many possessed better training. They were also quick to begin taking to the walls, nullifying the advantage the bandits held. The man tying the rope was one of the first casualties, taking an arrow in the back and toppling off the fort, the rope going down with him. Seeing that their best chance of escape was gone, Cato waved for everyone to return to the tower. The Imperial woman tried to make a run for it, but was downed by two arrows. Asa and the Nord man took up position behind Cato, letting him cover them with katana and shield while they provided the offensive capabilities with their bows.
The ex-Blade's skill was almost inhuman. He not only blocked the enemy's shots with his shield, but many of the arrows that passed him by he swatted out of the air with his katana, preventing them from hurting the archers behind him. He could only hold for so long though. A Legion archer made it to the bridge that sat across the fort, serving as an entrance into the inner side of the courtyard that was surrounded by stone walls. With all but two of the bandit archers dead, he took aim at Cato from this exposed location.
Unable to defend against attacks from two directions, the flanking legionnaire's arrow struck Cato in the shoulder. He collapsed backwards with a grunt of pain. His shield fell to the ground, but Asa caught him before he could. They were nearly at the prison tower's door now, and Asa dragged him the rest of the way while the other Nord covered them by unleashing arrow upon arrow at the enemy. He managed to take out the archer on the bridge, but could not make it inside before one of the archers below landed a hit on his left breast. Asa could only carry one man at a time, and she knew that going back out was certain death for her. Choosing the one who was most likely to survive, she was forced to shut the door on the wounded Nord who lay only a metre away from the safety of the tower.
After bolting the entrance to delay the inevitable attempt by the Imperials to break through, Asa turned her attention to Cato.
"Don't remove it," the Blade instructed her through clenched teeth. "It'll keep back the bleeding until you can get something to treat it properly."
"I know," Asa replied. "It's not my first time treating a wound with a protruding object."
The arrow had hit just below his left shoulder, a non-fatal wound if treated correctly. He was not bleeding too much, and the proper treatment he mentioned could wait for later. Grabbing her hunting knife, Asa cut the shaft of the arrow to prevent it from accidentally being moved and disturbing the injury. The act itself slightly shifted the arrow despite her best attempts to stabilize it, leading to another grunt of pain from Cato. She looked for something to wrap around the wound; if there was nothing else she would have to cut some furs from her clothing to do the job.
She did not see anything close by that could be used as they were on the middle of the staircase. However, she did catch a large figure ascending up the stairs, the broad shape of its body hinting at Imperial plate armour...