Summer is come, and with it the chance for the Covenant of the Stag to project it's power over the nearby islands at last.
Hastily prepared a lightning raid is mounted to strike while the Wolf factions of the Isle of the Needle are divided and turned on themselves. Taking advantage of Bruno's hard won intelligence the war council of the Covenant (which consists largely of Gerke, Alazais, Hoffnung, Renaux and Rolf) plan an attack on Ysengrin's beloved mines while Gisil is marshalling her forces against Aco. Soon a war party is gathered, 8 fighting men, 20 foxes, and 4 magi.
Cloaked by Clementine's illusions the Great Stag slips past the Wolves' coastal defences in the dead of night, with only the pale green phosphorescence of the sea to light her way. As dawn breaks across the islands, casting the long shadow of the mountain across the uneasy waters, the Stag is already making landfall, dropping her complement of troops on an isolated beach under Bruno's direction. Within the hour the force has penetrated inland, gathering a few more resistance fighters along the way, and is striking up the steep Western slopes.
Here the tree cover is thick, old growths of fir and pine with boughs that trail to the ground masking a rugged terrain of rocks and thick needles. The going is easy enough for foxes (and little fairy girls), but hard work for men, especially those like Hans and Fiorgi who do not have the constitutions of soldiers. Sadly there was no time for the scouting and planning that would have been needed to find a better route, so it is not till the sun is already well into the morning sky that the expedition finds itself in cover, overlooking Gisil's mine from the vantage of a leaning outcrop of granite.
Below them stretches the expanse of the usurper king's mine, a huge open quarry, deep, steep sided, and cut into the root of a jagged cliff of grey rock. A low defensive wall, built from stakes of sticky pine wood and earth, rings the upper edge of the mine, the spikes angled inwards like teeth, to keep the miners within. Small stone buildings built into the wall provide defensive hard points, it's more a prison than a mine-working, and a triumph of the castle-builder's art.
Sunlight flashes from the raised sword of Henri, Renaux's most trusted lieutenant, and then the attack is on, pouring down the hill across the open ground and down against the barrier wall. No sooner have they crossed half the distance than the defenders boil out of the buildings to oppose them, three dozen fox militia, armed with leather jerkins, makeshift helmets, shields and spears, with two of Gisil's pack at their backs with heavy whips in their hands. Moments later the two forces clash headlong with a crash of shields and a clatter of spears. The superior reach and strength of the men is balanced by the superior numbers of the foxes, at least for the moment, and the two forces seem evenly balanced ... until the Magi, safe behind the lines, lend their strength to the battle.
With a gesture Hoffnung brings first one, and then another, warrior down, gasping in pain. At his side Hans locks eyes with part of the front line, freezing them in their tracks, and allowing the Covenant troops to burst through. The Wolf warriors howl their defiance and charge forward, then quail back in fear as a company of mounted knights bursts from the treeline and makes straight for them. By the time they have realised the truth of Clementine's illusions their battle line is broken.
Now the fighting becomes close and deadly. Many of the militia attempt to flee, scattering back up towards the road that leads to the castle, while the rebel foxes try to cut them off as per the Hoplite's orders. Others fall back into the defensive structures, while the wolves enter the fray. One howls in anger and charges forward, his limbs bulging with rapidly swelling muscles, his eyes burning with madness. He snatches up one of the foxes in his jaws and snaps him in half, and then leaps forward to fell Gunther with a backhanded blow before Landolf's arrows bury themselves in his hide. The other leaps back into the cover of the fortified building, slamming the heavy door behind him, leaving half a dozen of his own troops trapped outside. A moment later a line of foxes appears on the rooftop, armed with slings loaded with flaming balls of sticky tar which they launch down at the attacking Covenant troops. One of the rebel foxes goes up in a ball of fire, and a number of the men are singed, before Clementine conjures a wind that blows the flaming missiles back in the faces of the slingers.
Then Gerke reaches the front, at Hoffnung's side, and the two proceed to demolish the defences with brutal efficiency. The earth heaves, stone shatters, hinges snap and gates are burst asunder. The last wolf attempts to put up a defence, but his troops have had enough, and quickly surrender.
Now the party hurries to the task of freeing the prisoners, aware that some of the militia undoubtably escaped with word of the attack, and that time is limited. Bruno leads the way, helping the Covenant troops locate Angeline, the nurse and healer in the squalid mine community. Here too they find the injured and the sick, the starving and the overworked, the slave labour that drives the endless castle building of Ysengrin. The pit of the quarry, and the winding nests of tunnels that spread out from it, are packed with a mass of fox workers. Underfed, injured, beaten, and clad in little more than rags, they are no ones idea of an army in waiting. Few of them seem to even be able to summon the energy to be excited at their deliverance. Apparently Gisil has been working them at triple shifts, leaving the dead where they fall.
There is a mass of mining equipment, picks and shovels, handcarts and iron jumpers, hammers and mauls, chisels and rope, but it's clear that there is no chance that the exhausted prisoners are going to haul it out of the mines and take it with them. All of the leaders present seem to agree, the prisoners take precedent over the hardware.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the quarries start to empty. A ragged line of fox workers stumbles up the steep trails to the lip of the pit, sniffing the air in amazement as they find themselves out in the woodlands and free to flee. Finally a sense of excited energy begins to sweep through the prisoners and the evacuation picks up pace. Some of the foxes are already taking to the woodlands, scattering in the hopes of reaching home, others have gathered about Angeline and Bruno, seeking guidance. Still others, it's clear, have no chance of escape unless you take them back to your own ship and evacuate them as part of Renaux's growing force in exile.
The job is perhaps three quarters done when Heinricus raises the alarm from the road, reinforcements are coming! Breathless he dashes down with the word that there is a pack of wolves on the road, armed, armoured and leading what might be half of Gisil's forces. Quickly your own troops deploy again, along with a smaller number of militia who surrendered earlier, and a few prisoners well enough to grab arms. They have just enough time to lay some defences (barricades and stakes stolen from the mine perimeter) before combat is entered!
Within moments its clear that this is a very different fight from the first. The wolf attackers are as big as men and stronger, resistant to casual magics, well armed, and ferocious. At their howls many of the fox defenders (militia, prisoners and covenant troops alike) turn tail and run, and the Magi too sense a magical assault on their minds, summoning primal fear and the urge to flee. Luckily this more general assault does not unman Hans as the previous one did. Most of the wolves are armed with polearms, designed and crafted for their superior height and mass, with which they can inflict horrible wounds on the defenders. Recent prisoners are slain left and right, Gunter (still woozy from the previous fight) blocks a strike badly and has his arm broken for his trouble, while Landolf, Ditmarus and Heinricus run out of arrows and are forced to fall back on hand to hand fighting. Bruno leads a charge of resistance fighters that momentarily drives back the attackers, but then is felled by a blow to the head, and does not rise. Forced to target wolf attackers individually in the press and swirl of bodies the Magi are far less effective, though Clementine holds off the fox slingers again, and Gerke prevents a flank attack, while taking a few glancing blows herself.
This is not a fight to be won without significant casualties. Liutfred is the first to realise, calling retreat on his squad of Stag island foxes, but soon the Covenant forces are in general rout, falling back into the treeline, while the refugees stream downhill pell-mell towards the waiting ship. Gisil's wolves, meanwhile, split in two, one force cutting off the retreat of the last few prisoners, while the others take to the woods after the Covenant forces. More than one fleeing militia troop, or rebel fox, is snatched up and torn apart amidst the trees, before the Magi and their trained grogs are capable of driving the foxes back by the simple expedient of setting the dry brushwood alight and then turning the winds against them.
Dusk finds the Covenant forces back at sea, counting the cost of their attack. At least a third of the troops they brought are dead or wounded, to greater or lesser extent, with Gunter's broken arm the most serious injury amongst the human forces, though few have escaped with no injury at all. On the other hand the ship is crowded with rescued prisoners, defecting militia, and stolen weapons, while most of the rest of the miners have hopefully gone to ground amongst the trees and brush of the deserted countryside. Bruno has, amazingly, survived his wounds, but looks certain to lose one eye, despite of Angeline's healing attentions.