The Iron Wall was quite as the snow fell. The flakes drifted among the dwarves that kept a stolid watch, facing east. There was little movement in their armored ranks, but each breath produced a small puff of condensed air before freezing to beard or fur-lined helmet. Barn commanded this section of the wall and she inspected the ranks closely as she paced up and down the line. Her men, as all men who manned the wall, were exceptional warriors. Each was chosen not just for his or her proficiency with hammer, axe and crossbow, but also strength of character and steadfastness in battle. Every dwarf on the wall was as intractable, as immovable, as the wall on which they kept guard, each a force to be reckoned with. That force had been brought to bear more this winter than any before, the attacks having become more and more frequent.
Barn's pacing was a matter of ceremony, really. She new that her troops were prepared, that their equipment was in order, their weapons ready. No soldier would have trusted her if she did not go through the motions. She stopped randomly to check axe heads, pulled leather straps to check their tightness, inspected boots and helmets. The dwarves lined up took comfort in her attentiveness; they knew that their commander was on the job. Nothing had ever made it over the wall on her watch, not while her Bears were on duty with her. That was the named they had been given by the other units, Barn's Bears.
They had a penchant for training riding bears, and though they did not have much opportunity to ride while they were on wall duty, they kept in the practice on their own time. These fifty dwarves made up the backbone of the Iron Wall. Smack in the middle of the great stone wall that stretched from the mountains to the south up to the northern mountain range. There in the middle, the fighting was always the hardest.
Barn stopped her pacing and faced her troops. She spoke, "I have received word that a section of the Northern Wall almost suffered a breach two days ago. If the watch fires are lit, we will be relieved immediately and are to ride hard to the north to act as containment until the flow can be stopped."
Some of her troops grunted. The entirety of the kingdom new that the fighting was toughest there in the middle, they did not see how a breach could be possible at a less pressed section of wall.
"Commander Thard and his troops are going to be reviewed." She continued, "A reason will be found, and corrected. They lost two men. Thard is taking it hard, he says that the wave was the biggest he has ever seen. We must be prepared to expect that all sections of the wall are going to be tested in the coming days, that the attacks will become more frequent and more brutal."
Her men nodded. Thard was not a lax Commander. His Thunderers, as his unit was called, were just as elite and veteran as they were. Barn turned to the east, and looked out over the snow covered field, smooth with a foot of fresh snowfall, to the tree line. 100 yards away. There was a rustle there in the tops of the trees, some winter owls took flight. It was the first sign of danger. The odd rustling moved in a large clump west toward the wall. Barn turned, and nodded. "Now is the time of our glory."
Her men spread out and took their positions. Shields on their backs with hammers, axes and swords at their sides, they each drew a crossbow and fit a stout bolt with a broad barbed head into place. They were arranged at the top of the sixty-foot wall, in four tiers. Barn climbed the stone steps to the top and took her position on the fourth tier. Below her the troops were arranged sixteen to a tier. He second in command, Saxon, was on the third tier, at it's center. Saxon was as solid as a dwarf could be in almost all respects, and she trusted him with all the lives in the kingdom. Nade, the units Runner was just returning from the unit to the north of the Bears, having mad sure they were alerted to the on coming wave. Nade did not where the heavy armor that the rest of the troops wore, he was dressed as lightly as possible so that he could run messages and orders, and if need be, report a failure to hold with speed. His bear was the only bear saddled and ready to go. Barn hoped that he would not have to be used today.
Barn raised her looking glass to her eye and scanned the tree line. There was movement at the edge of the trees and then a great mass burst out of the forest. Burst was perhaps too complimentary a word. She could clearly see the rotting flesh hanging from the walking dead in the front. They were gruesome to behold, some missing arms or chunks of torso, parts of the neck or lower face. Ugly as they were, speed was not a real concern, especially in the forest. She scanned back into the crowd as the mob emerged from the trees. This was, perhaps, the largest mob she had seen. In truth, it exhilarated her; she could feel the energy from her troops and knew that their confidence would not waiver an inch. It was her duty though to tell Nade to be ready to ride. She would not neglect duty due to pride. Nade, having returned from the south unit, took his position next to her to observe and at moments notice he could light the signal fire and be down the steps on the west side of the wall and mounted.
"Ready coals!:" Barn called, and the order was repeated by Saxon, though it was not necessary, it was his job. On tiers one, two, and three, each soldier removed the lid from a small cast iron pot that contained coals and was prepared to dip their tarred arrow heads into the red embers. Barn estimated the mobs distance at eighty yards now. The fresh snow was giving the front line a great deal of difficulty and the milling mass behind them pushed forward easier on the trampled snow. A low groan could be heard coming from the field now. The smell of the living, and the pressure from behind quickened their forward shamble despite the snow. Seventy yards now. "Light!" Barn called, and as she did each soldier dipped their arrow head into the coals and the broad heads caught flame. At the same time, the unit to the north loosed their arrows. Orange flames streaked across the dusk sky, and it would have been very impressive had most of the arrows not fallen drastically short, hissing as the snow put out the flames. Unfortunately, the unit to the south followed their lead and also loosed too early, managing to ignite only one walking corpse on the periphery of the mob alight. it burned, stumbled around and then fell away from the mob where it sunk slowly into the snow until it was extinguished. it did not rise again. She would have to have a talk with the north and south unit commanders.
At sixty yards she ordered the crossbows raised. At fifty she yelled "Loose!" and from her perspective above the unit, the darkening sky filled with streaks of orange and red that rose in arcs and then fell toward the hoard. For a brief moment as she felt the heat from the combined arrows on her face, she smiled; this, was he favorite part. Each arrow reached its pinnacle and dropped down into the mob behind what could have loosely been called the third rank. The north and south units loosed again and fire landed on the edges. Dry flesh and tattered clothing burst into flames. The undead bumped and shambled into each other, igniting those around them. The Bears loosed again, putting flaming arrows into the seventh rank and igniting it. At times in the past this process had been enough to discourage any further movement. There was something pushing this mob forward though, because although they burned and fell they kept coming. They were forty yards into the kill zone now and the back had not yet left the tree line.
At forty yards Tier One was ordered to cover their fire pots and switched to standard broad head bolts. Taking aim now they began to loose arrows into the first ranks of undead. Those that were hit in the head fell immediately, tangling the legs of those trying to shamble over them, others, hit perhaps in the legs or knocked about by bolts slowed the progress of the advance. Every bolt found a home in rotting flesh though, none were buried uselessly in the ground.
At thirty yards the gaps from the conflagration were too big to make the continued use of fire arrows effective. Tiers two and three also switched to standard broad heads and began picking shots. At twenty yards Barn bellowed "Shields up!" and Tier One placed their crossbows aside and took the shields from their backs and un-holstered their weapons. At ten yards the mob encountered the slick ice coated ground that ran along the base of most of the wall. Several times each day water was poured over the wall in great amounts to melt the snow at the base and produce either thick mud or slick ice. The already relatively clumsy undead humans slipped and fell and splayed at the base. This was Saxons favorite part, if you asked her. The mob had closed its ranks and there were still hundreds down there. As those first to the ice were trampled, more climbed over them finding the footing of old rags and armor somewhat easier to navigate than the slick ice. They could smell the flesh now and the groaning increased. They clamored and climbed on each other making a pile that others climbed up. A lot of dwarves vomited the first time they saw the writhing mass of rotting flesh ungulate up the wall, and there was no shame in that, but no member of the Bears ever had.
Tier One was now at the ready with their shields up and their weapons back. The first undead head that came over the rampart and Barn yelled "Smash!"