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His polished armor shining brightly in the sunlight, the young paladin rode through his beloved city of Cove. Duncan had only returned to his city of birth a few days ago, after many years of questing. He knew it was time for some much-needed rest before once again traveling to the far reaches of Britannia in search of those in need. Duncan was proud of his city - a place of hardworking men and women, most of whom had left the larger cities for the excitement of a “frontier” town and the hope of a new life.

The paladin’s thoughts turned bleak as he considered that new life. Cove was not what it once had been. Granted, there had always been the threat of the orc fort nearby, making it difficult to maintain a steady sense of peace, but something had changed recently. Scattered reports of movement by the orc tribes continued to come in, yet there seemed to be no sense of purpose behind the orcs’ actions. ‘Twas easy to understand the mind of an orc. Battle, blood, the conquering of all, the taking of land… these were the things that made an orc. These reports, however, did not reflect a steady march of orcs sent to conquer new land. If Duncan did not know better, he would almost say it seemed as if the orcs were being scattered. They were not marching towards a goal, they were running away from some unknown menace - and it was towards Cove that they fled.

As he turned a corner, Duncan spied a boy, no more than fourteen, running towards him. The boy’s leather armor was in tatters and a long gash could be seen on his right arm. He stumbled a few times as he ran towards the paladin, obviously shaken and in pain. Duncan immediately dismounted as the boy reached him and began applying a bandage to the boy’s arm.

"M’lord, they’ve broken through the outer wall!" the boy cried, his speech interrupted by weak coughs.

The paladin’s crimson eyes went wide. "What are you talking about?"

"Orcs, m’lord! Dozens of them! They’ve already slaughtered most of those at the wall and are making their way into the city."

"What of the guards? Cove still holds a small regiment of the king's men, does it not?"

"I don’t know, m’lord. The guards seem pre-occupied with their patrols and regiments. And many have already left to defend Britain and Trinsic against possible attacks." The boy winced as Duncan tightened the bandage. "But the orcs are not attacking either of those cities, nor does it look as if they will."

"Blast! So it seems we of the smaller towns are left to fend for ourselves, then!" yelled the young paladin, his tired eyes turning cold with rage. "Rally the men and women at the square and see if you can send word to our friends in the larger cities. We’ll deal with the vermin ourselves."

The boy saluted as Duncan drew his longsword and reared his mount. Galloping directly towards the main gate, it only took him a few moments to reach the battle. Duncan quickly tried to surmise the situation - where the line was weakest, who fought for him and who was nowhere to be seen, and, perhaps worst of all, the visible desperation of the men who stood as the town’s only defense. The defenders were slowly being pushed back. Duncan knew he had to do something, anything, and with a reckless shout, he kicked his horse into a charge.

The young paladin’s mount crashed into the line, trampling one orc while Duncan slew another with a quick strike to its head. Duncan barked orders to those near him, trying to bring some order to the chaotic fighting. The arrival of the paladin and other veteran warriors gave the defenders hope, and they managed to gain the advantage, slowly pushing the orcs back. Finally, the remaining orcs fled as the townsfolk let out a roaring cheer.

Their cheer was cut short as a shout rang from the top of the wall.

"More orcs...hundreds of them!!"

Duncan readied his sword and tried to calm his nerves. He shouted orders to the men near him, trying to form a battle line. The front gate was still in ruins and the wooden walls would not stop the orcs. The people of Cove were used to dealing with orc raids, but never anything like this. Help had better arrive fast, he thought, or there would soon be two orc forts east of Britain!



From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, May 31st, 2001.