Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake
Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake wrapped around a sword surrounded by a ring of fire. Because of it, some have tried to help me, others have tried to kill me, but none have told me what it means.
You can read what’s gone before Here, and the ongoing tale below.
Rolf, the leader of the group that had discovered me, sent the straw-headed youth on ahead of us to inform their master of my arrival. I worried about the reception I would receive. These men treated me with a reverential fear, would their leader be so accepting? Or so easily deceived, if I’m not who they think I am?
We traveled silently through the ruins. Rolf led the way, but was careful to let me dictate our pace. I moved quickly; I’d seen more than enough destruction for one night and nothing else remained in the city.
At the remnants of the north wall, four scavenger heads had been mounted on stakes. Each still wore the expression of pain and fear it had died with. I glanced at Rolf’s blood-soaked axe. Were these his victims?
Dawn peeked over the eastern mountains as we passed out of Tirradon. Away out on the great plain a camp had been set up. Smoke rose from a few fires and the outline of a great tent stood out against the landscape. The three of us moved quickly across the open ground.
As we neared the camp, smaller tents revealed themselves in the growing light. A thin man in dark furs met us before we reached the first shelter. He held a half drawn longbow and his voice was gruff.
“Halt and announce yourself.”
My companion sighed. “By Shimash, Halvan. It’s me, Rolf. I sent word that I was returning.”
“Aye.” Halvan lowered his bow, but he didn’t look any happier. “The master is waiting for you.”
Rolf pushed past Halvan without another word. I followed, leaving the archer a wide berth. Inside the camp, fur-clad men were packing up the smaller tents while tending to small cook fires.
All activities ceased as we approached, replaced by curious glances and the whispers of the onlookers which followed us. Two men were standing in front of the main tent. The closer was bald with a large scar running across the back of his head. Behind him was a giant of a man, with thick mane of red hair.
Seeing us, the big man pushed aside his companion and greeted me. “Then the reports are true! Welcome, brother.” He engulfed my hand with both of his. The back of his right hand was adorned with a tattoo that matched my own.
My voice caught in my throat. Could I finally learn who I was?
He wrapped a large arm around my shoulder with a laugh. “Don’t be so glum. Tell me, what are you called?”
Perhaps not. Still I needed to answer him. “Ulstir. Call me Ulstir.”
“I’m Jannus, the commander of this little company. And this is Nolveck, my number two.”
The bald man bowed briefly.
Jannus looked me up and down, for a moment, then turned and called into the large tent. “Keev, Kolvas!”
Two blond men joined us. They were well-built and had such similar faces that they must have been brothers.
“Find armor and a real weapon for Lord Ulstir.”
They bowed and disappeared into the camp.
Jannus glanced around. “Good, now then, where’s Halvan?”
“My lord, we passed him patrolling the perimeter.” Rolf said.
The big man laughed. “Of course he is. No matter. Come, brother, you must tell me your tale.”
I hesitated, unsure how much of my story I should tell in such an exposed place.
Fortunately, Halvan rushed into the assembly, delaying my need to decide. “A thousand pardons, Lord Jannus, but the scouts have returned, and our quarry is on the move again.”
“As always you focus on the worst. Can you truly find no joy in such a chance meeting as this?” Jannus laughed as the archer’s stoic face answered his question. “Rightly are you called Halvan the Dour.”
The men around joined in his mirth.
“But still, need now calls us. Nolveck, take twenty men and finish packing the camp. Halvan, Rolf, rouse the rest, we march at once.”
The captains acknowledged their orders and hurried off to carry them out.
“Are you going after the War Dogs?” I asked once we were alone.
Jannus laughed. “If only. No, we’re hunting a band of brigands that have been causing trouble in the surrounding towns. You’ll come with us, won’t you?”
This is still my best chance of finding answers. “Of course.”
While we marched, I told Jannus of Anasei’s death, Ishtir’s rage, and the Serpent of Tirradon. I left out Ulstir’s name, as well as my death and lack of memories. Instead I claimed I was trapped under a falling building.
He, in turn, told me what he knew of the aftermath. In the two days since the city fell to chaos, Ishtir and the War Dogs had been seen heading south. No reports had come of the dragon, though there were rumors of a great beast heading into the mountains to the east.
I was fitted with a set of thick furs and a broad-bladed axe. The weapon felt clumsy in my hand, but I accepted it gratefully.
We marched until almost noon before we caught up with the bandits. They must have had their own scouts, because we came upon them drawn up for battle. There were nearly fifty of them, a number that rivaled Jannus troops. Gathered together, they were a motley crew of mismatched armor and scavenged weapons.
The soldiers quickly fell into their own battle lines. I stood at the front, between Rolf and Halvan.
Jannus stepped out into the open field between the two forces, his weapon, a large war hammer, still lowered at his side. “Harken to me! Too long have you plagued these lands, but there’s no need for you to all die here. Send out a champion, if he defeats me, my men will escort you safely south of Tirradon, where you may pillage to your hearts’ content. And if I am victorious, the rest of you will surrender, and be taken alive to answer for the crimes you have committed.” He gestured to his army. “Or we could slaughter you like cattle. What say you?”
A murmur ran through the ranks of the brigands. With the cheers of his fellows, a man emerged from the company. He was tall and broad shouldered. His helmeted head rose well above his fellows. He held a broadsword with both hands. On his chest was a steel breastplate, emblazoned with a golden boar.
Was he in the battle that took my memories?
Jannus laughed and brandished his hammer. With a shout, he charged the mail-clad man. The brigand’s movements were smooth, but slowed by the weight of his gear.
Jannus, garbed in the much lighter furs, dodged around the first few blows before striking back. The hammer met the breastplate with a resounding clang. The bandit champion staggered back, and Jannus pressed his attack. Another blow to the breastplate, and then one to the man’s knee, knocking him to the ground. Jannus stood over his fallen foe and holding his hammer with both hands brought it down on the man’s head.
The first blow was probably fatal. The second caved in helmet and skull alike. On the ninth, the haft broke, leaving the head of the hammer where the man’s used to be.
Horror crept through my veins as I witnessed the brutality. This is the man that calls me brother? Another, even more terrible thought came to me. Had I been like him?
Jannus tossed aside the broken weapon and roared up to the sky. Fire erupted from his mouth. The flames leapt a few feet into the air before arcing back and fading a few inches from the ground.
Memories of the dragon, the kinship I’d sensed with it and it burning me alive, rushed into my mind. Behind me, the men cheered for this display of power and their voices carried the same note of fanaticism the War Dogs used to praise Ishtir in the temple.
Without a second glance, Jannus turned and walked back to where we waited. Blood spatter covered his face, and there was a wild light in his eyes.
As he approached, an arrow from the brigands embedded into the fur on his back. The force of it knocked him forward, but it was clear that he was uninjured. Regaining his balance, he smiled at me, then turned to Rolf. “Kill every last one of them.”
To Be Continued….