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.
With a shout, Rolf charged the enemy lines. The troops thundered after him, axes in hand. I was caught up in the wave of death that poured across the field toward the hapless bandits. My mind returned to the furor of the War Dogs in the temple of Ishtir.
Leaderless, and facing our terrible assault, the brigand’s lines broke. A handful of men rushed into the fray, but most scattered for the nearby trees.
Our line swept over the frontrunners without even a pause.
From the rear, Jannus called, “Hunt them down! Don’t let any escape alive.”
My feet thundered in time with the horde around me as we closed the final distance to the retreating bandits. I adjusted my grip on the axe I’d been given one last time and then we were upon them.
The first enemy I came to swung a heavy club at my head. I blocked the attack with the haft of my axe and countered him, but the angle was wrong and my blow went wide. I braced for his next attack, but he fell with an arrow in his throat.
I glanced over at Halvan, but he was already moving on to other targets.
My next foe pressed his attack, making strike after strike with his short blade. It took all my focus to defend against his flurry of assaults, my axe taking the punishment that was meant for me.
As the throng of fur-clad soldiers pressed past me and further into the battle, the space around me became tighter, making it even more difficult to swing my axe. My opponent, clearly tiring from the exertion of his barrage of attacks, left me an opening and I took it, bringing the axe down on his shoulder. He screamed and collapsed to the ground. I pulled my weapon free and brought it down again, ending his suffering.
By this time the rush of Jannus’s soldiers had largely passed me by. The sounds of battle mixed with the cries of dying men to form a chorus of carnage.
The morale of the remaining bandits broke, and they scattered toward the cover of the nearby trees.
“After them!” Jannus bellowed. “I’ll have their heads or yours.”
The soldiers, spurred on by Jannus’s threats, chased down the scattering brigands with a mindless ferocity. The military discipline dissolved into a rabble of bloodthirsty killers, darting this way and that after their fleeing foes.
Off to my left, Halvan pursued a small band of men into the trees. I glanced around quickly to see if any of his companions would follow, but none did.
I ran after him. The man may have saved my life; I can’t let him pursue this danger alone.
At the forest’s edge, I dropped my axe and drew my sword. The serpent etched into the steel seemed to smile at the prospect of spilling blood. I tried to shake the sickly feeling that was growing in my stomach, and advanced into the trees.
At first, the trees were small and sparse; easy to maneuver around. But as I pressed deeper into the woods, the trees grew larger and closer together. The air became dark and heavy as the upper boughs blocked out the midday sun. Even the sound of the slaughter just beyond the edge of the forest had difficulty penetrating the thick foliage.
I slowed my pursuit, partially because of the difficulty of the terrain, but largely due to the sense of foreboding the seemed to permeate the air. The dark woods seemed to be waiting for something.
Halvan and his quarry had disappeared into the deeper shades of the forest and I followed after them, moving as quietly as I could, barely daring to breathe.
A twig snapped behind me.
I whirled in time to deflect the spear thrust. My counter caught my assailant on his armored head and he crumpled to the ground.
Two more of the bandits emerged from the cover of the trees, weapons in hand. With a shout they charged me. The first man swung his axe wildly and I easily sidestepped the attack. A mistake he paid for with his life. The other was more skilled if not more cautious. We traded a few quick blows before I sank my sword into his unprotected chest.
I turned back to my ambusher, who was stirring. He was only a boy, no more than twelve. His spear was little more than a sharpened stick and his helmet was an overturned pot. He stared up at me and his face was resolute, but his eyes couldn’t conceal his terror.
And why shouldn’t he be afraid? I was the monster covered in his friends’ blood.
I kicked the makeshift spear farther away. “Do you know these woods?”
He spat at me.
“Answer me, boy.” I hauled him to his feet. “Do you know these woods?”
The fear in his eyes spread to the rest of his face and he nodded.
“Good.” I released him. “Then go, and do not let yourself be found until this battle is long over.”
He stared dumbly at me.
“Go on, run. Before I change my mind.”
With a start he bolted into underbrush.
I turned to wipe the blood from my blade. Halvan stood a few paces away, his bow drawn.
“Stay your hand!” I interposed myself between the archer and the boy. “I chose to spare his life, if Jannus takes issue with that, then let him speak to me directly.”
Halvan lowered his bow, but his eyes were still wary. “This arrow was never meant for him.”
I adjusted my grip on my sword. “Do you mean to kill me, Halvan?”
“Not anymore.” He returned the arrow to his quiver. “But there are some lines no man should cross. Not even a prince.”
Prince? Something in the back of my mind screamed at the word, but no new answers came, only a throbbing pain. I tried to shield my reaction by wiping my sword clean. “In that case we should get moving. If that boy’s rage overcomes his terror, we should be far from here before he finds more of his friends.”
To Be Continued….