Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
I think your Scorpionids are coming off worst. That makes it a draw, I think.
Not yet. I still have more Arachnoids. I think I'll bring them up behind the Dwarvish lines and blast them out of existence before they can run.
The speaker stretched his hand across the table and moved some models on it.
That's started a real panic. There won't be a Dwarf left in this miserable world.
It'll pay them back for destroying my Orcs.
You concede, then?
The boys had made a slight sound. The Warlords swung round and stared. One moved swiftly to a switch at the edge of the table. Gollin sprang forward. Jellybean and Frobisher followed. They were only just in time. The force-field guarding the door changed suddenly and became a visible, crackling screen of energy.
Who are you? demanded a Warlord. How did you pass the gateway?
The boys faced them in dismay. The Warlords were tall and thin, and dressed in formless robes of an indeterminate colour like dirty cobwebs. Though their bodies seemed humanoid in form, their heads were those of beasts, one with curved horns and the other with the cruel beak of a bird of prey. Silently Jellybean and Frobisher clutched each other's hands, trembling. Gollin, however, answered them proudly.
"I am Gollin, son of Bollin and Ilirion. I am neither Elf nor Dwarf, yet I am both. Your invisible forces cannot harm me, for I am the one who will drive you from our world. So it is prophesied. My companions are Jellybean and Frobisher, Children of Men."
You are too late, Gollin, son of Bollin, said one of the Warlords with a snigger. We shall leave this planet soon because it no longer interests us. Come and see the final massacre of your precious Dwarves.
The three boys stared into the table. It seemed to have a surface at the level of their hands, and at the same time no surface at all. They could look down through it at the battlefield where their friends were fighting for their lives.
The Dwarvish lines had broken in confusion. They had driven the Orcs back to the Ford of Assic, but, suddenly and unexpectedly, Arachnoids had appeared behind them, firing plasma bolts.
I think we can say that I shall win, murmured one of the Warlords. There is nothing more you can do.
Gollin stared in horror and disbelief. He cried out in despair and smashed his fist onto the table as if to crush the horrid scene out of existence. It crashed down on a group of model Arachnoids on the force-field surface.
"Look!" yelled Jellybean.
Down on the surface of Iltuvion the Arachnoids suddenly collapsed as if obliterated by some tremendous force.
Gollin smashed his fist into the remaining models, and the whole Arachnoid battalion on Iltuvion was destroyed. The Dwarves turned and massacred the surviving Scorpionids and Tyrantulas as they crawled from their stricken machines.
Jellybean and Frobisher darted round the table and swiftly crushed the models of the Arachnoids still menacing the Elves. Shoals of Elvish arrows finished off the swarming Scorpionids.
"Now, Warlords!" cried Gollin, unsheathing his sword. "Leave Tuvi, or die!"
One of the Warlords raised his hand and gestured round the walls. Instantly they shimmered into nothingness, and the boys found themselves in the midst of a vast honeycomb of interconnected, hexagonal cells, each with a gaming table and two Warlords. They stretched far into the distance, as far as the eye could see.
Warlords! called one of the gamesters in their own chamber. We have caught two interlopers. They have ruined our game. What shall we do with them?
From near and far the Warlords of Chaos came, abandoning their boards and strolling through the intervening cells to cluster around the three boys.
"We could drop them into a volcano."
"No, the Gamesmasters would not allow it. According to the Rules interlopers must be returned to their own planet."
"No! No! To a planet similar to their own."
"Humanoid in form. We could drop them into a little war somewhere. You've got one in your game, haven't you?"
"Yes, but I don't want interlopers. What do you think?"
"No. You're quite right. With the game so finely balanced the slightest interference could spoil everything.."
"We'll have to drop them somewhere where they won't interfere with any of our competitions."
"And where they won't be noticed."
"Or, if they are, they'll be taken for madmen and locked up."
"I think I've got just the place. Come over to our table."
The three boys were relieved of their swords and compelled to walk through the myriad cells until they stopped by another table. Looking into it they saw a ragged column of refugees streaming from a ruined and blazing town, while a couple of fighter planes droned in the sky above, and, one after the other, came howling down out of the clouds to spray the terrified and defenceless refugees with deadly machine-gun-fire.
"That looks interesting," murmured a Warlord.
"The most deadly of all the humanoid races," replied the owner of the table proudly. "We don't need to bring in aliens. These little fellows will fight to the death for the most trivial reasons. The game's going quite nicely, but that's not where we're going to drop them. There are still more than enough peaceful spots on this world. Let me see, how about this?"
He adjusted some controls on the edge of the table. The battle-scene shot swiftly away from them as if they were on a spaceship blasting off from the planet. Soon they saw it, spinning in space as a blue globe, then with dizzying speed they rushed towards it, skimmed sideways over green fields and trees, over towns and factories, and finally homed in on a field where small figures were racing about, brandishing sticks and pursuing a ball.
"It is a game," said the Warlord at the controls. "Primitive, but still a game. The object of each team appears to be to strike the ball into a gateway defended by the other."
"I see no injured players," put in another.
"No, they strike only the ball, not each other. These are young females. In this part of this world males are expected to keep their legs covered in tubular garments. When our young friends are discovered in what will appear to the natives a grossly indecent state of undress, they will be regarded as mad. I should imagine they will find the mockery of these young females such a humiliation that they will be quite glad when the adults lock them away in a lunatic asylum."
"It's agreed then?"
"Yes. Yes. Agreed," murmured the Warlords.
The one who had devised the idea took from the channel at the edge of his table a piece of some malleable substance, held it for a moment in a beam of light, then broke it into three pieces. With one he touched Gollin, with the next Jellybean, and with the third Frobisher. The substance began to twist in his hand as if it were alive and rapidly formed itself into tiny models of the three boys.
"It would be amusing to watch their fate," said the Warlord, "But we must get back to our games before we lose count of the score. I'll put them in those bushes there. They can't possibly escape. Have fun, my little friends."
As he spoke he put the models on the table. Jellybean, Frobisher and Gollin felt a sudden dizziness as if they were falling through hundreds of feet. Their heads spun and they closed their eyes.
When the dizziness stopped and they looked again they found that they were crouching in a clump of bushes between two hockey pitches.
"This looks jolly like England," whispered Jellybean. "Prangish rare!"
"Golly," said Frobisher, "just like Br'er Rabbit and the briar patch. They've sent us home by mistake."
"Let's go and ask those girls if they know the way to Bunbury Court," said Jellybean and started to stand up.
Frobisher caught hold of him. "Don't be such a frantic suet pudding," he hissed.
"What's up, you feeble weed?"
"Well," whispered Frobisher, "it may have escaped your notice in all the excitement, but we still have no trousers on."
"Oh fishhooks! I'd forgotten that," replied Jellybean. "We'd best stay put till dark, then set off for the nearest road."
"Well, if we walk along, sooner or later we'll find a signpost. If this is England we're sure to recognize the name on it. We'll be back in Bunbury Court in no time."
"What then?" asked Gollin. "Have you forgotten my people?"
"Then we go back through the portal, find the cleft, and have another crack at the Warlords."
"Do we have to?" wailed Frobisher.
"Of course we do. We can't leave Oggi and Amphibolas and the Lady Doria and the rest facing certain death."
"I suppose not."
"This time," said Gollin, "they will not take us by surprise. I, Gollin, son of Bollin ..."
"Sh!" hissed Frobisher. "I think they've spotted us."
A couple of girls were looking towards the bushes and whispering together. The boys froze.
"Come along, Jennifer and Mabel," called the schoolmistress in charge. "Keep your eye on the ball. Oh good shot, Sylvia!"
The game continued and the boys settled down to wait for nightfall. It wasn't long before the final whistle sounded and the players left the hockey pitches.
"Phew," sighed Jellybean. "Now perhaps we'll be left in peace till it's dark."
The schoolmistresses in charge of the various games strolled off together, and the girls coalesced into gossiping groups. They showed no sign of wanting to hurry off to tea, or even to get rid of their hockey sticks.
Jellybean began to grow uneasy. "It looks to me as if we're in a frantic fix, chaps," he muttered. "I think we're surrounded."
Although the girls were still sauntering round with an air of leisurely casualness they had spread out all round the bushes, and now, as if at a word of command, they all turned and stared into the clump of shrubs, hefting their hockeysticks.
One girl stepped forward, a big, beefy girl with fair hair. "You'd better come out!" she called imperiously. "We know you're in there."
The boys looked at each other helplessly.
"Don't think you can get away," called the beefy girl. You're surrounded."
There was another pause.
"If you don't come out," called the beefy girl, "we'll come and get you."
There was a rattle of hockey sticks.
Jellybean shrugged and stood up. Gollin and Frobisher followed his example.
"I thought so," said the beefy girl with satisfaction. "Boys! Spying! Peeping Toms! Well, what shall we do with them, girls? The usual?"
"Wait a minute, Jennifer," interrupted a moon-faced girl. She muttered something to the beefy spokeswoman.
"Come out!" the beefy girl ordered.
"Well," answered Jellybean, "if you don't mind, we'd rather stay here. You see ..."
"I told you," cried Moonface triumphantly. "They've got no trousers on!"
"Out!" snapped the beefy Jennifer.
Jellybean sighed and moved forward. Frobisher and Gollin followed. The girls gasped, then tittered, then pointed and laughed. They did not laugh genteelly behind their hands like well brought-up young ladies discussing the finer points of style in a humorous work of literature. They laughed loudly, immoderately, raucously and mockingly. In fact they overacted quite considerably, but they did make their point.
"That saves us a bit of trouble then, doesn't it?" said Jennifer. "Come on girls, lock 'em in the pav."
Gollin was completely puzzled by all this. He could not imagine what these stick-wielding aliens found to laugh at, or why Jellybean and Frobisher stood for it. The threatening movement to herd them towards the pavilion he did understand. It meant imprisonment. Though the Warlords had taken his sword they had missed his small knife. Gollin swiftly drew it and slashed wildly round. Then he crouched, snarling, turning slowly.
The girls backed away holding their hockey sticks defensively. One had dropped hers, and blood dripped from her hand.
"No, Gollin! No!" screamed Jellybean. He sprang to his friend's side. "Put it away," he pleaded.
"They shall not imprison Gollin," growled the Dwarf-Elf. "I will kill!"
"No!" howled Jellybean. "You can't kill! This isn't Iltuvion. This is England - Earth, I mean. You can't fight girls."
Gollin hesitated. "Have I done something dishonourable?" he asked.
"Hairy, radio-active, bogus dishonourable," gasped Jellybean. "Boys, that's us, don't fight girls, that's them. You see ... oh I don't know why, it's just oikish, that's all."
"These are the females of your race? The daughters of men?"
"I see. I have done wrong." Gollin turned to the girl with the bleeding hand and held out his dagger, the handle turned towards her. "If you wish to strike," he said, "I shall not resist. I pray you stab my left arm. I have still much killing to do with my right."
The girl backed away. "He's mad!" she said.
"He's a foreigner," said Jellybean. "They're all a bit loopy where he comes from."
"Where's that?" demanded Jennifer.
Jellybean and Frobisher spoke together:
She raised her eyes heavenwards.
"Well, France," said Jellybean. "They're all mad there."
"Into the pavilion!" ordered Jennifer.
"OK," sighed Jellybean, "but we can explain."
"I'd like to hear it," scoffed Jennifer, "but first we've got to decide what to do with you."
"I think we'd better call Miss Wyndham," said the bleeding one tearfully, "and get them taken away by the police."
"Take their photos first," put in moonfaced Mabel. "I'll go and get Tilly Frobisher to bring her camera."
"Gosh! Did you say Tilly Frobisher?" interrupted Frobisher, his eyes gleaming.
"What if she did?" demanded Jennifer.
"Then this must be St Ursula's!" cried Frobisher.
"As if you didn't know," scowled Jennifer.
"Then we're only ten miles from Bunbury Court!"
"Are you weirdos from Bunbury Court?" demanded Jennifer incredulously.
"Oh yes!" cried Frobisher excitedly.
"Frobi ..." muttered Jellybean.
"I'm Jeremy Frobisher and Tilly's my cousin ..." continued Frobisher.
"... and this is my friend Jellybean."
"I mean Jonathan Laurence Bennett."
"Oh, Frobi," muttered Jellybean in despair.
"And who's this?" Jennifer indicated Gollin.
"Gollin," replied Frobisher.
"Colin Bollinson," said Jellybean quickly. "He's Norwegian."
"Oh yes? I thought he was from France, Australia and Transylvania. Sure he's not a vampire? Well, now we know who you are we've got to have a few photos for the album - and then we'll ask Miss Wyndham to phone your headmaster."
A bell began to ring in the distant buildings.
"Damn!" said Jennifer. "Lock 'em in girls. Who volunteers for guard duty?"
The key turned in the lock.
"We'll be back," promised Jennifer, and the girls melted away towards the school.
* * * * *
"Oh well done, Frobi," said Jellybean sarcastically.
"What do you mean?" asked Frobisher with a puzzled frown.
"You only told them who we are and where we come from."
"Well I thought they would help us."
"Oh yes? Now if they tell their Miss Whatsit, all she has to do is telephone the Archbeako, and we're really in the soup."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"What's more," continued Jellybean, warming to his theme, "I don't suppose you're the only one with a cousin here."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"What's that got to do with it?" cried Jellybean incredulously. "You really are a frantic, fat-headed goon, Frobi. The story of how we got caught lurking in the bushes with no trousers on will be all over Bunbury Court - probably with photographs to prove it. We've got to get away before they come back with cameras. Let's see how many guards we've got."
He climbed onto a bench and pushed his face hard against the window, squinting sideways to see how many girls were guarding the door.
"About six, I think," he said. "First thing we've got to do is look for some weapons and a way out."
Weapons were easy to find. There were hockey sticks galore lying in a cupboard. A way out was more of a problem. They could open the window, but they'd have to climb out one by one, which would give the girl guards plenty of time to biff them with their hockey sticks and prevent their escape.
"Perhaps we could dive through the window, smashing it as we go," said Jellybean desperately. "Then we'd be out before the girls realised."
"We'd be cut to pieces by the broken glass," said Gollin. "Why don't we use the door?"
"What? Kick it open?" demanded Jellybean. "It opens inwards, and it looks pretty strong."
"Unlock it," said Gollin.
"Well, I don't suppose you bogus weeds are tall enough to see what's on top of that cupboard," said Gollin, "but it looks to me like a bunch of keys."
It was a bunch of keys, mainly small ones for the various cupboards, but there was one big one. Gollin took it over to the door.
"Start arguing," he said. "Make a noise, anything."
"You really are an idiot, Frobi!" yelled Jellybean. "It's all your fault. I feel like thumping you with this hockey stick!"
He rattled the stick round the walls and floor, while Gollin quietly inserted the key into the lock and turned it.
"It fits," he whispered. "Now what? Shall we charge 'em?"
"Not yet," hissed Jellybean. "I've got an idea."
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