ZOMBIE REVOLT by Gavin Chappell
Something seized Gerald. In the darkness of the passage he couldn’t see his attacker, but from the stench, and from the claw-like fingernails digging into his flesh, he knew it was a zombie.
‘Get off me, you bastards!’
It was Brian’s voice he heard, echoing Gerald’s own thoughts. Percy was also audible, though his own screams were muffled. It seemed all three of them had been seized by the zombies the moment darkness had fallen.
Gerald found himself being hustled forwards by his captor. He tried to struggle free, but more clawed hands seized him out of the darkness and dragged him. His feet slipped and slid in the slime of the floor. They were hauling him towards the crypt whose entrance he had glimpsed before the carbuncle’s light was extinguished. What time was it now? It had been evening when they left the inn and set out for the citadel. Night would be falling outside.
The padding of the zombies halted. They were in an echoing space now, but it was still pitch dark. ‘Where are we?’ Percy’s frightened voice came from Gerald’s left.
‘In the crypt, I think,’ Gerald replied, and Percy groaned.
‘Let me go!’ Brian was still snarling. ‘Let me go! Where’s my sword? I’ll cut you up, you undead bastards!’
‘You okay, Brian?’ Gerald asked.
‘They got my sword, Gerald!’ Brian told him frantically. ‘They got my sword!’
Gerald was about to reply when he heard a grinding noise, like stone scraping on stone. It came again. Then again. A crash reverberated through the darkness. Gerald gagged at a smell of rot and corruption that wafted towards him. He saw something moving in the darkness, two red fireflies. They settled to hover directly ahead of Gerald, glowing malignantly.
‘Arise!’ a voice resounded from the same direction. ‘Arise, my legions. It is night.’
The darkness came alive with more and more fireflies, like a constellation of red stars in the all-encompassing night. They darted in pairs on every side. In the dim red light shed by the swarming fireflies, Gerald began to pick out details of the crypt.
With a shock, he realised that the red fireflies were eyes. Each pair gleamed atop a dark figure, a humanoid form. The light, though dim, grew strong enough for him to see the shapes of his companions, held fast—as he was—by two or more zombies.
The first figure approached soundlessly as if floating. As the stench grew, Gerald saw a tall man wearing a long dark cloak. What Gerald could see of the face was emaciated and scabrous.
‘Again, we have guests,’ the figure spoke. ‘It is well that we should have so many visitors. I thirst, now that this country is dry.’
It reached forward a clawed hand and touched Gerald’s chin affectionately. Gerald shuddered with horror and turned his face aside.
‘Who… who are you?’ he asked with a shudder.
‘I am Duke Overwold,’ the figure said. ‘I offer you eternal life.’
‘As one of your zombies?’ Gerald spat. ‘I don’t wanna be a brain-dead slave. Fuck that!’
Duke Overwold chuckled. ‘Such spirit,’ he said. ‘Would you live beside me in eternal undeath? Never dying? This could be your fate if you do not resist.’
Gerald stared into the face of death. ‘You look like you’re having such a great time,’ he said sarcastically. ‘You stink, mate, and you really need something done about that eczema.’
Duke Overwold flinched at his words; involuntarily he put a taloned hand to his face. Then he lowered it again, smiling coldly.
‘You do not see me at my best,’ he admitted. ‘But your blood will restore me to freshness and vigour!’ He went for Gerald’s neck.
‘Hold!’ came a voice from the assembled vampires. To Gerald’s surprise it was strangely familiar.
Duke Overwold halted mere inches from Gerald’s carotid artery. His firefly eyes darted to one side, then he rose.
‘What is it, Lord Gurak?’
Gerald’s eyes bulged as he stared towards the speaker. In the darkness he could make out nothing of this vampire, but the voice… and the name… It was his old companion, whose return from death had horrified them all. So Gurak had gone back to the citadel crypt!
‘We are equals here, your grace,’ said Lord Gurak. ‘You told me so when I joined you. Do we have no say as to who drinks the blood of these victims?’
‘I am your duke!’ Duke Overwold snarled. ‘We are equals, aye—in that we are deathless immortals. I gave you this gift of eternal life, milord. I gave it to all those undead in this crypt. We are equal in undeath. But I take precedence over all in matters of … blood…’
As Lord Gurak and the duke argued, Gerald struggled vainly to free himself from the zombies’ grasp.
‘Looks like we’re fucked whatever we do,’ Percy muttered.
‘Vampire politics!’ Gerald muttered. ‘But I’m glad Gurak’s looking out for us.’
‘What was that?’ Gerald said.
‘What are you talking about?’ Percy asked. ‘I just said we’re fucked.’
Gerald groaned. He was hearing voices in his head now.
You are. Listen to them.
‘Who are you?’ Gerald asked aloud.
‘I’m Percy, you daft sod,’ Percy said, staring in his direction. ‘And this is Brian.’
‘Shut up,’ Gerald said. ‘I’m listening.’
I am buying you time, youngling. While I bicker with the duke, you have a chance.
‘For what? Are you Lord Gurak? How come you’re talking in my head?’
I am he. Now I am a vampire I can speak mind-to-mind. You must break free from the zombies. Your only hope here is to seize the circlet from the duke’s brows.
‘I was going to do that, but things got difficult. Can’t you?’
Were I to make such a move, youngling, the duke’s followers would tear me to pieces. I shall keep them distracted. Your task is to break free and seize the circlet. Do it now! I cannot keep them occupied much longer.
‘… I am your duke!’ Duke Overwold cried out. ‘You will all obey me! I know full well that some of you oppose me. But my decision is final—these visitors will glut my thirst, like the peasants of the duchy before them…!’
‘Brian, Percy!’ Gerald shouted. ‘Get them!’
He head-butted one of the zombies holding him. The undead creature staggered backwards, although Gerald was pretty sure its skull wasn’t ringing like his. He shoved wildly at the other, then tried to tear himself away. He heard a brittle snapping sound and looked down. In the gloom he saw that the zombies’ claw-like hand still gripped his wrist, but it had broken off at the forearm. He shuddered.
Percy and Brian had also fought free from the slow-moving zombies. They followed Gerald as he leapt over a slab and flung himself at Duke Overwold.
The duke was addressing another tall, dark figure, presumably Lord Gurak. Gerald hit Duke Overwold between the shoulders. It was like colliding with a sackful of dry sticks. The vampire hit the flags with a clatter and lay there like a dead thing.
Gerald looked down at the huddled shape. To his shock, it rose and went for him. As Gerald staggered back, he snatched at the vampire’s skull. His fingers closed on metal.
He hit a slab with enough power to wind him. As he lay there, gripping tightly on the circlet he had seized from the duke’s skull, he saw the dark figure looming over him, the red fireflies of its eyes glowing as its clawed hand reached out. Wheezing, Gerald put on the circlet.
‘Zombies!’ he cried. ‘Attack the vampires! Attack the vampires!’
As Duke Overwold shot fiery, angry glances to left and right, the zombies shambled forward to obey. The crypt became a battleground as the zombies attacked their masters. Two set upon Duke Overwold and bore him to the ground. The darkness filled with the sound of combat.
Another vampire approached Gerald.
‘Youngling!’ the vampire said. ‘Some of these vampires are our friends! Keep them away from our allies!’
‘We don’t need vampires as allies!’ said Percy as he and Brian joined them in the centre of the dark crypt.
‘How are the zombies to tell our allies apart?’ Gerald asked. All around them, the grisly crack of bone and the tearing of withered flesh was audible, but Gerald could see nothing of the fight. ‘In fact…’ he added, as two zombies seized Lord Gurak, ‘do we really need them at all? And… do we need you?’
All that rivalry, all that tension between him and Lord Gurak, had led up to this point. As zombies sank their taloned hands into Gurak’s flesh, the vampire stared at him.
Then, with a sigh, Gerald waved his hand. ‘Leave him,’ he said resignedly. ‘He is on our side.’
‘Thanks, youngling,’ Lord Gurak said. ‘You will not regret this.’
‘If I’d kept hold of my carbuncle,’ Gerald told him defiantly, ‘I’d have flooded this crypt with light and killed all of you. Allies included. And maybe it would have been good riddance.’
His last words fell in the midst of a sudden silence. The savage noises from the surrounding darkness had ceased. Now only zombies remained of the undead, except for the vampire who stood at his side.
‘That was well cool!’ said Brian admiringly. ‘Now what do we do?’
‘Now we’ve wiped out all the vampires? Friends and foes? Apart from Lord Gurak here?’ Gerald asked. He took the circlet from his head and put it down on a nearby slab. Then he mopped his brow.
‘You have not killed all of them, youngling,’ Lord Gurak told him bitterly. ‘Many more still infest this duchy. Now that their duke is dead, they will know. A power struggle is coming. The surviving vampires will descend upon the citadel, each eager to succeed the duke. One vampire will triumph, and unless he is an ally he will lead the zombies to conquer Trinovant and beyond. Unless…’ Fear seized Gerald as he realised that those silent towers and castle—perhaps those oversized graveyards too—must contain legions of the undead.
‘Unless?’ he asked.
‘Unless you begin a zombie revolt,’ Lord Gurak replied.
He took Gerald to another slab, shaped like an altar and carved with mysterious glyphs. He cast his hand over its surface which came alive with a blaze of cold light. The vampire reared back and raised a hand to his eyes, but seemed otherwise unaffected.
‘It was from here that the duke controlled the zombies,’ he murmured.
As the light died down—it wasn’t enough to do more than to discomfit the vampire—it resolved itself into an eagle’s-eye view of the entire duchy, from the forest’s edge to the mountain slopes down which descended the Trinovant road. It was moonlit night, just as it must be outside.
Visible all across the duchy were small glowing dots; most of these were white and concentrated around the villages. Others were red. These were mainly to be found among the towers and the graveyards.
‘The red dots represent vampires,’ Lord Gurak said. ‘The white dots are zombies. As long as you wear the circlet, the latter will be under your command.’
‘What’s this, though?’ Percy demanded, walking round the altar, pushing past two unmoving zombies. At the far end, where the forest stood, numerous black dots were flowing into the village on the duchy’s borders.
‘It must be the army!’ Gerald panicked. ‘The army of the king! They’ve finally entered the duchy!’
‘Then we have not a moment to lose,’ Lord Gurak said decisively. ‘Order the zombies to rise against their vampire masters.’
Gerald put on the circlet again, went to the edge of the altar, and cast his arms wide. ‘Zombies! Rise up against the vampires!’ he called.
Slowly, the unmoving white dots began to stir. Like rivers of light, they flowed towards the red dots in the towers. The whole duchy was alive, and Gerald observed it from afar.
Percy turned at a noise from behind them. In the dim light of the crypt, two figures were visible in the archway. One of them smiled, revealing white fangs that glimmered in the dim light. The other figure shuffled awkwardly forward.
‘Hi guys,’ said Norman. ‘Er, look…’
‘Norman!’ said Percy. ‘What are you doing here? I thought you were in the inn, looking after Lady Candida…’
He shot another look at the vampire who accompanied Norman. The female vampire. He gulped. ‘Milady?’ he ventured.
‘My lord!’ Lady Candida, her face anaemically pale, her eyes glowing red, rushed across the crypt. Lord Gurak turned stiffly, then held out his arms to embrace her.
‘You have returned!’ he said.
Gerald looked up from the altar where he had been watching the progress of the zombie uprising. ‘Hi there, milady,’ he said. ‘Gurak, stop cuddling your girlfriend and come here. How do I get a close-up on this thing?’
They gathered round the altar and watched as Lord Gurak made a series of passes in the air. The image grew larger, focussing on the edge of the duchy, and the village where they had first encountered the vampire plague. The king’s army was marching through it. Gerald shuddered at the size of it.
‘They’ve done some conscripting since last we saw them,’ Percy remarked.
The image was roughly on the scale of a computer game. It reminded Gerald nostalgically of playing strategy games on his Xbox back home. The houses of the village stood out against the snow. The zombiefied villagers remained where the adventurers had left them, in the lane that led up from the king’s highway. Some of them were half-buried in snow. Gerald wondered why they had not risen against the vampires, but then he remembered that he had dealt with the vampires of that village. The manor house was a blackened ruin, burnt roof-joist poking up through the shrouding snow.
The king’s army was passing on the highway below. Knights came first, Paladins of the king. In their midst was the king’s banner and beside it, seated upon the wagon that also carried the gallows, was a black-clad figure that Gerald recognised as the bastard son of the king—now the king himself, since Lady Candida had killed his father.
Behind the knights marched the barbarians, blue-haired, iron-sinewed figures, bundled up in wolf-skins and bear-skins against the cold. But behind them came huge forms that Gerald had hoped never to see again. Nine-foot-high and three-foot broad, with matted hair, and great tusks for teeth, riding war-bison and carrying war hammers or battle-axes: ogres. Ogre after ogre; the army of Cragface the ogre king.
‘Looks like the Bastard’s negotiations were successful,’ said Percy. ‘That must be what kept them. He got the ogres on his side. Oh. Except he’s not the Bastard anymore, is he? Did anyone catch his name?’
Gerald shook his head. ‘He’s the king,’ he said. ‘That’s all we need to know.’
‘Aye,’ said Lord Gurak. ‘The greatest threat to the peace and stability of the realm there is. United with the barbarians and the ogres, his powers are magnified.’
‘But we’ve got bigger problems,’ said Norman suddenly. ‘When milady and I were on our way here, we saw movement beyond the settlement. Vampires. Dozens of them. Some coming from the graveyard. Others down from the hills. Coming straight here!’
‘What?’ Gerald exclaimed. ‘Why didn’t you say so before?’
‘Nobody was listening to me,’ Norman complained. ‘Nobody ever listens to me. I tried to say it but everyone was more interested in Lady Candida…’
‘Shut up!’ Gerald blazed. He shook his hand at the altar without any effect. ‘Gurak, what do I do? I want to see the citadel.’
Lord Gurak made a pass over the altar and the image changed focus, returning to an overview of the duchy. Red dots surrounded the middle of the duchy, where the citadel stood. He made another pass, and the image swooped down to show the citadel itself, and the dots of about twenty or thirty vampires bearing down upon it.
White dots were visible in places; the zombies. Some were in this very crypt. Gerald put the tips of his fingers to the circlet, and commanded: ‘Zombies! Surround the citadel. Kill all vampires who try to enter!’
They watched as the white dots slowly began to move. The zombies in the crypt began to shuffle outside.
Soon a ring of white dots surrounded the citadel. The advancing line of red dots met it and recoiled. Then attacked. The white dots moved to surround the red dots. Distant sounds of fighting filtered down into the crypt from the citadel.
‘Closer!’ Gerald ordered. Lord Gurak made another pass and the image focussed on the struggle between zombies and vampires at the citadel gates. It was a hideous, tooth-and-nail battle, undead versus undead. Vampires fell, to litter the snow with their twice-dead bodies.
‘Now out again,’ Gerald said. ‘I want to see the whole place.’ The image changed to show the whole duchy. Red dots and white dots were visible in several places, yet the white dots prevailed. The zombie revolt was in full sway.
But the army of the king had passed the first village and was crossing the plateau towards the citadel.
The countryside was up in arms, zombies rebelling against their vampire lords, but the greatest threat had yet to be faced. Gerald remembered the methodical way the king’s army had sacked Ogres’ Gate.
‘Those zombies in the village,’ Percy said. ‘They’re not doing much, are they? Just standing round like a bunch of zombies, really.’
Gerald shrugged humourlessly. ‘So?’
‘Send them against the king!’ Percy said.
‘The king will twat them all,’ Brian said scornfully. ‘There’s not enough of them. Not enough to fight those barbarians, or the ogres. They’ll be slaughtered!’
‘They’re already dead,’ Percy pointed out. ‘Anyway, it might slow the king down. If they get here straightaway, they’ll smash through the place like a bulldozer.’
‘Okay,’ said Gerald thoughtfully.
He gave the order. Soon the white dots were moving after the black dots. The black dots outnumbered them massively, but Percy was right; it was vital that the king didn’t march across the duchy without resistance.
The white dots started attacking the black dots at the rear of the column. It really was like a computer game; a pretty retro one, Space Invaders or Pacman or something. Gerald didn’t think much of the graphics. Like in a game, he felt distanced from the whole business. But when the king reached the citadel, it would be a game no longer.
The rear-guard of the king’s army slowed as the zombies continued to attack. After a while, it broke off from the main group to fight the remorseless attackers. The rest of the army continued undeterred. They were heading straight for the citadel as dawn broke over the eastern mountains.
The ring of metal on stone awoke Gerald. He saw the circlet spinning on the stone floor and realised he had dozed off, leaning against the altar. He looked at it. The whole picture was changed. It was light now, and the red dots of vampires had almost been wiped from the board. But the white dots representing zombies were scattered about the place. He looked back at the village to see that the king’s rear-guard had defeated its attackers and was hurrying to catch up with the main force.
He looked around the crypt. Percy was slumped over the altar on the far side, blocking Gerald’s view of the west of the duchy. Brian and Norman were snoring on the floor nearby, Brian mumbling aggrievedly at the sound of the still spinning circlet. Gerald snatched it from the floor. He gagged as he realised that the room was still scattered with the gory fragments of vampires. Rising, he saw that Lord Gurak and Lady Candida both lay in the duke’s sarcophagus, in each other’s arms. Neither of them was breathing. Gerald found it difficult to believe they had both become vampires.
Perhaps the only vampires left in the duchy. He could see no red dots on the map except two at the citadel: he could explain them. But the black dots of the king’s army still bore down on the citadel. Gerald panicked. He thrust the circlet on his head.
‘Zombies!’ he cried. ‘To the citadel! Now! Protect me!’
The others woke suddenly, staring round in shock, except the two vampires who remained asleep—or dead—in their sarcophagus. Percy frowned at Gerald.
‘What happened?’ he asked.
‘I nodded off,’ Gerald replied. ‘We all did. Now the king is closing in on the citadel.’
‘Call the zombies, then!’ Brian shouted.
‘I have done!’ Gerald shouted back. ‘But it’ll take time! And they’ve been fighting vampires all night!’
‘Okay, okay!’ said Percy. ‘Where’s the king?’ He looked at the image on the altar. ‘Shit,’ he added. ‘He’s really stolen a march on us. Why didn’t someone stay awake?’
‘I reckon we just find some horses and ride the fuck out of here,’ said Brian. ‘No point hanging round.’
‘We can’t do that,’ Gerald said. ‘We’ve got to defend this place.’
‘Why’ve we got to do that?’ Percy asked. Gerald rounded on him.
‘What do you mean, why?’ he demanded. ‘We’ve got to stop the king!’
Percy shrugged, indicating the map. ‘Everyone in this place is dead or undead,’ he said. ‘Most of the undead have been killed, if that makes any sense. What can the king do here?’
‘He’ll destroy the place,’ Gerald said. ‘He’ll destroy everything.’
‘That won’t bother anyone,’ Brian said. ‘Everyone’s dead. We should clear off before we join them.’
‘We need to warn Trinovant before it’s too late,’ said Norman. ‘And the quicker we get out of here, the better.’
‘Leave the zombies to it,’ Percy urged. ‘If they defeat the king, great. If they don’t—well, at least they’ll have weakened him. But if we don’t get out of here pretty quick, Trinovant will have no idea what’s coming its way. They’ll destroy the city like the barbarians did Kashamash. We couldn’t save Kashamash. But if we stop hanging round uselessly, we might just save Trinovant.’
This decided Gerald. He had been feeling bad about the sack of Kashamash ever since they’d run away from the place. Immiel had left him because he had failed when he tried to rescue the city from the barbarians. Now he had another chance, it seemed. Another chance to save a city from destruction.
‘What about Lady Candida?’ Norman asked suddenly. He was standing by the sarcophagus in which lay Lady Candida and Gurak. Gingerly, he reached out and touched Lady Candida’s neck. He looked up. ‘No pulse,’ he said. ‘They’re dead.’
‘They’re undead,’ Gerald corrected him. ‘They won’t return to life until the sun goes down.’
‘Shit, Gerald,’ Percy complained. ‘That’ll be hours.’
‘Leave them here,’ Brian said impatiently. ‘We can’t wait that long! The king’s coming.’
‘I’d have thought you’d want to go and fight them!’ Gerald taunted him. ‘Not run off like a fucking coward and leave our mates.’
‘You hate Lord Gurak!’ Brian said. ‘You beat the crap out of him in Ogres’ Gate! Yeah, I’ll fight those bastards, but I can’t find my sword.’
‘We can’t leave Lady Candida,’ Percy said, ‘isn’t that what you mean, Gerald?’
‘I agree with Percy,’ said Norman, pouting. ‘We can’t abandon her.’
Percy shook his head. ‘You don’t agree with me, Norman,’ he said, ‘because I agree with Brian! We should get the fuck out of here. They’re both vampires. They can’t come with us. And we can’t wait, anyway.’
Gerald pointed at Percy triumphantly. ‘They can come with us!’ he said. ‘Remember Dracula? We put them in coffins and cart them off with us.’
‘Oh, come off it,’ Percy started, but Norman broke in: ‘Gerald’s right. We can do it.’
‘It’ll slow us down if we have to carry two coffins!’ Percy said. ‘There’s an army out there. No way are we going to run about the place weighed down by coffins.’
Gerald was about to reply when he heard a padding of footsteps from outside the crypt. He turned to see dark shapes shuffling through the archway.
‘It’s the zombies,’ Norman said. ‘Why have they come here?’
For a moment Gerald couldn’t think of an answer. It looked like all the zombies in the settlement had come down here. As far as he could see in the gloom, they had already been in the wars. Some were missing limbs. From the fight with the vampires? Or had they already met the king’s army?
‘I told them to come to me,’ he said as realisation dawned. ‘Go back up!’ he ordered. ‘Guard the citadel again. Outside! Attack anyone who comes near!’
As the zombies shuffled back out, Percy said despondently, ‘There aren’t nearly enough of them to stop the king.’
‘Are they going to fight with their bare hands?’ Norman added. ‘They’ll be cut to pieces by those knights!’
‘He’s got a point,’ Percy said. ‘They may be undead, but they’re not invincible.’
Gerald shrugged. ‘What do you suggest?’
‘They must have an armoury somewhere in the citadel,’ Brian broke in. ‘Arm them! Then they’ll stand a better chance.’
This seemed worth a try. They followed the shambling zombies back out of the crypt, leaving Gurak and Lady Candida lying in the sarcophagus, united in the sleep of death. As the zombies issued out of the citadel gates, they began hunting round the dank passages.
Brian came hurrying back into the main hall. ‘Reckon I’ve found it, guys!’ he said, his eyes bright. ‘They’ve got one fuck of a big door round the back. It must be the armoury.’
The others followed him to an ironbound oaken door at the back of the citadel, near a postern gate that led out into a narrow alleyway between spurs of rock. Gerald eyed this speculatively. Brian tugged his sleeve.
‘In here, I think,’ he said, pointing at the door.
Percy had found some keys and was unlocking it. It opened to reveal a dark, dust-covered room lined by shelves on which lay spears, pikes, axes and swords.
It hadn’t been used for some time. ‘Not since the vampire plague began,’ Percy suggested.
Brian seized a big war hammer. He’d not been able to find his bastard sword in the darkness of the crypt. But now he had a big weapon again, he was happy.
‘Okay, grab as many as you can,’ Gerald said. ‘Especially those big ones, those pikes. The zombies will be fighting knights on horses; they’ll need something like them. Carry them out to the front.’
They grabbed as many pikes as they could each carry and lugged them off down the passage to the citadel gates. Here the zombies stood in a motionless mass, staring with dead eyes out across the plateau. Gerald started handing out the pikes he was carrying. Then Percy said, ‘Look, Gerald!’
Gerald turned to see Percy was pointing towards the snow-lined escarpment beyond the settlement. Crossing it were several horsemen. Gerald sighed. He continued to hand out pikes as the scouts of the king’s army gathered on the ridge.
‘Looks like the army isn’t far off,’ said Percy.
‘I don’t think we’ve got enough zombies to fight them,’ Norman said worriedly. ‘We’ve got, what, twenty? That army is massive.’
The riders began to thunder down the ridge, splitting up to ride round the settlement. More mounted figures came over the rise, knights, and ogres. The barbarian infantry marched relentlessly in between them.
Gerald shook his head. ‘We’re really fucked,’ he said.
‘I think it’s time I showed you what I found while I was looking round the citadel,’ Percy said.
Gerald shot him a look. ‘What? We’ve got to stand and fight!’ Already the barbarians were advancing, the knights and ogres fanning out on either side.
‘We’ll die if we fight them,’ Percy said. ‘Simple as. But come with me.’
He led them back inside, leaving the zombies to defend the citadel. They managed to close the doors behind them. Then Percy took them across the courtyard to a stable. Inside, several mangy-looking horses were standing in stalls.
‘Looks like the zombies kept on feeding them,’ Percy said. ‘Maybe the vampires used them, but these aren’t undead, just a bit neglected. We could ride the fuck out of here.’
‘What about Lady Candida?’ Norman demanded.
Gerald scowled. ‘Lady Candida’s a fucking vampire, Norman,’ he said angrily, although in a way he was trying to persuade himself. ‘You can’t have the hots for her, unless you’ve turned into a necrophilliac. We’ve got to warn Trinovant, right? We can’t wait for nightfall. We can… come back for them later, maybe.’
‘Later?’ Norman bawled. ‘When this place has been burnt to the ground and everyone killed…’
‘Everybody’s undead, Norman…’ Percy tried to interrupt, unsuccessfully.
‘… I’m not putting up with it!’ Norman continued. ‘We’re going to fight! Those zombies are going to fight and we’re going to fight beside them…’
He broke off suddenly, and fell into a pile of straw. Brian dusted off the end of his war hammer and looked with satisfaction at the unconscious form.
‘Brian!’ Gerald shouted.
‘What?’ Brian said. ‘I used the butt! He’ll be out cold for hours. No more complaining.’
‘I don’t believe it!’ Gerald said. ‘How are we going to escape now?’
Percy grabbed Norman’s feet. ‘We’ll just chuck him over Brian’s saddlebow,’ he said. ‘Get those horses ready. We’re getting outa here!’
“Getting those horses ready” proved to be a struggle in itself. The beasts had grown unaccustomed to being ridden, and the adventurers’ only experience of horses was during their campaign against the ogres, when most of the hard work was done by mercenaries, paid for the purpose. After an epic struggle, they led three unwilling horses out into the courtyard. The sound of fighting was audible from outside the walls.
‘We’ll never get out,’ Gerald said.
‘Not that way, dickhead,’ Brian said impatiently. ‘The other gate. The one by the armoury.’ He leapt up on the back of his horse, took Norman’s comatose form from Percy and slung it over the saddlebow. Then he spurred his horse and rode straight into the building.
The other two mounted and followed, riding through the halls and passages of the citadel until they came to the postern gate. Brian dismounted and flung open the gate. ‘Come on,’ he said.
They rode out of the citadel down a narrow passage hewn from the living rock. At last they came out into the open. Stretching away before them was the sloping plain that led to the high peaks beyond which the king’s highway led down into the lowlands where stood Trinovant.
Riding across the plain towards them was a group of knights and mounted men-at-arms. They were the riders who Gerald had seen earlier, circling the citadel. They had seen the open postern gate and were galloping for it.
‘Back!’ shouted Gerald. ‘There’s too many for us. Back into the citadel. And get that fucking door shut behind us!’
Sawing at the reins, he persuaded his horse to turn and ride back the way they had come. The rock passage thundered with the pounding of hoofs. The noise grew as the knights pursued them. Gerald rode straight through the postern gate, ducking to avoid the lintel.
The other two rode in. Gerald leapt from his horse and slammed the door shut. As he pulled the huge bolt into place, the door began to reverberate as the attackers tried to smash it in.
But it had been too well made. After a while, their efforts ended abruptly.
‘Great, Gerald,’ said Percy, looking down from the saddle of his horse. ‘Now we’re stuck in here.’
Gerald’s own horse had galloped off into the citadel. Rubbing his bruises, he said, ‘Looks like we’re defending the place, then. This door will resist anything short of a battering ram. We should get some zombies guarding it though, now all the king’s horses and all the king’s men know about it.’ With a sigh, he added, ‘Looks like we’re in for a long siege.’
He walked away down the passage. Getting down from their horses and leading them by the bridles, Percy and Brian followed. Norman’s unconscious body still hung over Brian’s saddlebow.
They left him with the horses in the courtyard when they entered the gatehouse. Above the gate was a largish room that contained two arrow slits looking out upon the battle in the blazing remains of the settlement outside the citadel. Zombie pike men fought knights and ogres while elsewhere, barbarian marauders were attempting to scale the walls without success.
‘Fuck,’ said Percy. ‘Those zombies aren’t enough to keep back the king’s army.’
On the ridge beyond the guttering settlement Gerald could see the wagon containing the black-clad figure who was the new king. ‘We need to defend that other gate,’ he said, ‘but if we take any zombies away from this position we’ll be weakening it.’
‘Look!’ Brian shouted. He was looking out of the left-hand arrow slit, down the length of the wall where barbarians had lifted a crudely-constructed ladder up onto the wall. They were scaling it with terrible speed.
‘Come on!’ Gerald drew his sword and led them down the parapet to the ladder.
The moment they reached it, a barbarian scrambled over the battlements. Gerald ran towards him, sword out. The barbarian grinned insanely, and flung himself at the youth. Gerald stepped to one side and the barbarian fell to his death in the courtyard below.
He saw that another barbarian had reached the top of the ladder. Percy ran forward and grabbed the ladder itself, trying to push it back. Wildly, the barbarian grabbed him by the collar and tried to drag him back. They struggled until Brian came up alongside. With a swing of his war hammer, he dented the barbarian’s skull and the man fell to his doom.
Gerald pushed past and got hold of the other side of the ladder. More barbarians were coming up it. He nodded to Percy.
‘Heave!’ he said, and they both pushed the ladder outwards.
The ascending barbarians tried to grab at the wall as their ladder fell backwards. The one closest to the top almost succeeded in seizing an outcropping rock, but his fingers slipped and the ladder went toppling backwards, flinging angry barbarians into the snow.
Further up the wall, more barbarians had got the same idea. Brian ran towards the new scaling ladder, swinging his war hammer as he did so.
‘Come on,’ Gerald panted. He was about to follow Brian when the first ladder appeared again. He looked down and saw that the surviving barbarians had lifted it up again. ‘Second thoughts, we’d better stay.’
The ladder slammed down a short way down the wall from its original position. When Gerald and Percy went to push it back they found themselves subjected to a hail of crossbow bolts. They flung themselves down on the parapet.
‘What now?’ Percy gasped.
‘Looks like we’re fucked,’ said Gerald. It was impossible. He slumped against the wall while Percy peered over it. ‘How can we hope to defend this wall, only three of us? They’ll be breaking through the other gate soon, anyway.’
‘Don’t forget the zombies,’ Percy said. There was an odd note in his voice. The sound of battle from below was increasing.
‘I told you,’ Gerald said. ‘There’s too few of them for us to withdraw…’
Percy tapped him on his shoulder and pointed. Gerald peeked over the parapet.
A long line of shambling, undead figures topped the rise, and now the king and his warriors fled towards the citadel. The zombies Gerald had called hours before.
What were they waiting for? he wondered.
Then it struck him. They awaited new orders. He had told them to come here, but he hadn’t told them what to do next.
‘Zombies!’ he shouted. ‘Attack!’
The battle continued until evening. By that time, Norman had recovered and come to join them on the walls. He looked puzzled by his recent nap, but Brian told him that he had been knocked out by a passing barbarian.
‘Are we winning?’ he asked, rubbing his sore head.
‘We’re keeping them busy,’ Gerald said. ‘That’s the main thing.’
‘Why don’t we just ride off, then?’ asked Brian.
‘I’ve realised something,’ said Gerald grimly. ‘These zombies need someone to give them orders. If we ride off, they’ll be useless. The king will destroy the citadel and ride on to attack Trinovant. For the moment we’re keeping them busy. But it won’t last if we ride off.’
‘It’s getting dark,’ Percy said in the silence that followed.
‘So what?’ Gerald asked impatiently. ‘It won’t stop the zombies… Hey! Where are you going?’
‘Come on,’ Percy said. ‘Follow me, you lot.’ He led them into the citadel, down the steps and into the crypt.
‘So now we’re stuck here,’ he was saying a moment later, as the freshly awoken Lady Candida and Lord Gurak listened from the sarcophagus. ‘We can’t leave the zombies to fight without us because they’re useless without someone telling them what to do. The moment we ride off, the king will defeat them and get going on the road to Trinovant. Probably pick us off on the way.’
‘Someone has to stay behind,’ said Lord Gurak.
Gerald looked up. He scowled angrily at Gurak. ‘You know I’m the one who controls the zombies! Are you telling me I’ve got to stay here while you all ride off?’ The idea of being left behind in a doomed castle defended by the living dead horrified him.
‘No,’ said Lord Gurak. ‘Lady Candida and I will remain. You must give me the circlet. I will become the new vampire lord. I will control the zombies. We will fight on. We are all dead, but there is still life in you younglings. Take horse and ride for Trinovant.’
Lady Candida rose from the sarcophagus and took Gerald’s hands.
‘Ride fast!’ she said. ‘I had hoped that I would be in Trinovant for the season, but it is not to be: milord and I have joined the undead. We shall remain in the mountains, reigning over the undead, guarding the pass against the king and any other threats. You will live, you will survive. And you will warn Trinovant. If we fail, if the king rides on to Trinovant, the city must be ready.’
Despite the deathly chill of her hands, Lady Candida’s eyes were warm and kind. If only things had worked out differently…
Gerald took his hands from hers.
He snatched the circlet from his head. It had never really suited him, he told himself as he handed it to Lord Gurak. Rising from the sarcophagus, the vampire placed it on his head and went to the altar where the battle raged in miniature.
‘Okay, get the horses,’ Gerald said. ‘We’ll try the back way. It looks like most of them are fighting the zombies at the front right now. We’ll grab the opportunity while it lasts.’
He led his fellow adventurers from the crypt.
Lady Candida joined Lord Gurak at the altar. They watched the images of the four youths as they got horses from the stables and rode out by the postern gate. After a skirmish with mounted men-at-arms, they broke free and galloped away into the night. Down the king’s highway.
On the road to Trinovant.
‘But will they get through?’ Lady Candida whispered gently.
Lord Gurak did not answer.
TO BE CONTINUED AT A LATER DATE