He was weary. He felt faint, unto death, but he couldn’t die…He couldn’t afford to, so, he killed 'them' instead…
But, they kept coming.
More and more to take the place of the first. They were weak in technique and slow thinking. They were killed with the simplest of sword maneuvers that even a child in his land could easily counter. But what they lacked in sword technique and style, they made up for in shear numbers…
He had killed 8 to 10 of them already, and what had appeared to be a large patrol was turning out to be more like an advanced element of what he knew, from his years of battle, must be a very large force not far behind.
He had begun a personal and deadly dance of death among them, as they sought to encircle him. He did so in order to allow the girl time to get away and summon help. However far away help might be.
Twenty dead now, and still more came. They clamored after him, climbing over the dead bodies of their fellows to get at him. He was the sought after trophy now, the prize. His head as highly valued as any gold they’d hoped to find. To kill this “whirling black-clad demon” would be a feat to boast of in the lodges of their homeland forever….
He backed his way down the beach, cutting, slashing, parrying, as the sword seemed to grow heavier and heavier by the minute. Surely the girl must be clear by now, and he could plan his own means of escape. He chanced a quick glance over his bleeding shoulder in time to see her, grim-faced, storming the beach, screeching a high pitched war cry.
Foolish girl! Was she trying to get herself killed!
Uunbrak-ton raced toward the swirling black demon, his battle-axe held high. He leaped over the bodies of the fallen, heedless of their fate. They were clumsy fools, he however was a scarred survivor of the Battle of the Nors and the Slaughter of Kingston Dale, where the heads of civilized kings had rolled beneath his blade. Babies and children, men and women, warriors and kings, servants and slaves. It didn’t matter. All sated the thirst of his weapon for blood…and his ego for glory! This stranger would be no different.
The black-garbed stranger turned and saw the young mistress riding to his aid. Good, thought Uunbrak-ton, they can die together. Then he pushed his way through the hoard of warriors fighting and dying in a loose circle around the demon. The stranger had to be a demon to be as swift as he was, to kill with such ease and dispassion. All men knew that only demons killed like that. The stranger cut them down like a woodsman bored with the repetition and ease of his work, his razor-like 3 foot blade making a strange cutting sound as it flowed like silvery lightning through the air. It unnerved some of the men as it struck.
First a “whizzing” sound as it cut through the air to its’ target. Then, an unsettling metallic slurping sound as it hit flesh and quickly parted it, sounding almost as if the sword itself were hungry and thirsting for blood…
…and enjoying the feast that lay before it…
Yes, this was truly a demon and his weapon must be a demon weapon from hell….
He watched the stranger’s eyes widen as the arrow fell from heaven like a death star and impaled the young rider and knocked her from her proud beast. He saw the stranger’s mouth open in a warning that came too late. He saw the face change then, in a slow motion instant from passive, to furious anger. From bone-numbed weariness, to fiery hatred. Now was his chance to strike the stranger down while he was hurt, angered, weary and distracted.
Uunbrak-ton leaped from the surrounding circle and struck downward with his axe, diagonally to split the body at the shoulder, thus leaving the head intact. His father would be proud.
“Now I will have a trophy to show in the lodges of Norsdad-Um that will make me a proud legend!”, he thought to himself.
It was the last thought that Uunbrak-ton had in this life…
Lt. KarSalas tightened the saddle on his horse, then mounted her. The mare shifted slightly under his weight and he reached down to pat her reassuringly. He sat up slowly, his mind suddenly occupied by what his sense of smell was telling him.
Cooking fires? Out here? It must be the Princess.
“Chaa!”, he goaded the horse into a gallop toward the top of a nearby hill. He’d spent the night in a restless sleep thinking about the Princess. Could she have been so close and he not know it?
He crested the tree covered hill and dismounted walking quickly to the edge. A steep drop confronted him which fell away to a valley floor hundreds of feet below.
Suddenly he dropped to the ground and crawled behind an old log and peered cautiously at the incredible sight below.
The entire valley was filled with cooking fires. Nomadic tents filled the landscape. He watched as fur wearing warriors began to emerge from their tents, stretching and yawning away last night’s sleep.
“By the gods, there must be thousands of them!” Their cossack-like caps, fur covered jerkins and kilts revealed them to be Northern Brigands. But their numbers! Their raiding parties in the past were numbered no more than 50 or 60 men (though they fought like a hundred). But, by the spires of GreyCastle! How would the tiny army of JildiZar, numbering only 1,800, cope against such an invasion as this!
He counted. It must be more than 5,000 men! No sign of the Princess or Storm among them. A good sign, he hoped. Usually captured royalty were kept by the barbaric leaders as mistresses and personal slaves. Not an enviable fate. So no sign of the Princess or her horse was good news, but he did note something very unsettling….
The brigands were a nomadic people with a winter home in Norsdad-um. They came south every fall to raid the southern lands for food, goods, gold and slaves. Booty in hand, they always returned north for the winter to enjoy their spoils till the next year. Now, however, they seemed prepared to stay. Their numbers had swelled from a few hundred to the thousands that lay stretched out before him. Their numbers swelled by conscripts from raids on other countries no doubt.
He saw all manner of strange people and weapons in the huge camp. The most disturbing of which were The Giants. He had heard of them as a child. They were supposed to have died off ages ago, but here they were in the Valley of BeckKann. It was if an army had been drawn from every barbaric race of the Outlands and had been sent to raid their small country. When they had defeated the brigands last year their ruthless leader had said in his crude barbaric tongue that he would return…
And so he had…
“Sire!”, said the messenger as he kneeled before his King.
“Scouts have reported a raiding party to the north!”
“Brigands?”, said the King.
“The usual sire, 50 or 60 at most, but they are sacking the villages of BaataLil and our patrol needs reinforcements right away.”
“And you shall have them. Chamberlin!” His call was met with silence.
“Where is my Chamberlin?” he queried of a servant.
I’m sorry sire, we don’t know. He left this morning and hasn’t been seen since.”
The King’s face clouded, then flushed as he remembered his treatment of the man earlier that day.
“No matter. Kierstat!” he said, calling for his special assistant.
“Yes, sire”, he said approaching the throne.
“You, are my new Chamberlin.”
“Thank you, sire.”, he said bowing reverently.
“See to it this man has the number of troops he needs to handle the brigands,” said the King preparing to leave the throne room.
“…But sire, if I may…”
“Speak”, the King said wearily.
“…We don’t have anymore troops to send. You dispatched all of them to search for the Princess…”
The King paused, realizing his error. He had been thinking with his heart and not his head…
“Take 100 men from my personal guard. And assign them to go and fight the brigands.”
“…But sire, are you sure? Your personal guard may be needed here.”
“Send them Chamberlin. The safety of my people is more important to me than my own. Besides, it’s just the usual raiding party, no need to be overly concerned.”
That was his second greatest mistake of the day…
It was called “The Leopard’s Turn”, and he executed it flawlessly.
He turned his back toward his victim briefly, and took a quick step as if to flee then turned and struck the charging victim so quickly he was dead a full heart beat before he collapsed to the damp earth.
The deadly stranger stepped over the toppling body of the burly axe wielding warrior, disappointing his attempt to gain his head for the lodges of Norsdad-um. Unaware that he had just killed the favored son of the People of the Snows, as they called themselves. The only thing he knew was that he must get to the girl. Immediately. To see if she was alive. For if she was, she’d drown if he didn’t reach her immediately.
They paused. Their attack frozen. They stared in awe at the dead body…of their kings’ son. Uunbrak-ton.
The demon watched them carefully for a moment, puzzled by their lack of pursuit, then he was dashing off into the water pulling the girl from it’s clutches as he eyed them suspiciously. He pushed her body up on to the skittering horse while they reverently removed the body of their ruffian prince from the field of battle. The demon sword at the ready, he tried to walk the horse down stream to safety…
Uunbrak-ton had never lost in battle before. He was invincible, unstoppable…immortal. They looked at the stranger once more…with awe. Truly he as a demon…but then, even demons must die…so, they attacked him again…
They surged through the water after him, slowed by the water-weight sucking at their heels. He stopped, turned and awaited them. Choosing not to get an arrow in the back by attempting to climb abroad Storm himself.
He slapped Storm on the rump to send him down stream with his precious cargo. Like the stoic warrior that he was, he placed himself between the horse and the onrushing barbarians. They came sloshing and screaming war cries. He, carefully, slowly, eased back into the deeper part of the river. They followed in vengeful pursuit. He counted fifteen, plus the archer on the ridge. When he felt Storm was far enough down stream, he ceased his slow retreat. A coolness came over him. He was resigned to death. The girl had been his only concern. Now, she was out of reach. A coldness like snows from which they had come came over the strangers’ face. Vengeful now though, they would not be perturbed.
They surged forward like a fur-clad wave of fury and hate and it was then that he charged them, decimating their middle ranks. Charging through them with ballet-like ease and in a furious gracefulness that left six of them clutching severed limbs and two face down in crimson colored water…
He rushed to the beach having cut a swathe through them that left them in impotent rage as they struggled through the grip of a hungry river bottom to get at him.
He smiled wearily at how well his ploy had worked.
They were oblivious to the girl now.
Swords and battle-axes began to flash at him from every angle. His sword leaped from breast to breast, giving each a gentle kiss of death to sate their taste for blood, with a heavy dose of their own... He reached deep, to pull up reserves of strength and speed, and found only craftiness there instead. So he used it. “The Dragon’s Turn…”, he thought to himself and then turned and ran clumsily toward a large nearby tree…
The archer followed the elusive stranger for the fifth time with his long bow. The stranger was like a panther on the hunt. It was as if sometimes he was the pursuer and not the pursued. Wait! He was running toward the large tree just off of the beach, trailing his sword in the sand behind him like an errant child fleeing the blows of an irate parent. He was far enough ahead of the others now to avoid hitting the knot of warriors behind him. Good…lead him just enough to account for windage and…there!!!
The fire-arrow zipped through the air like an ancient bullet toward its’ target—the back of the fleeing black demon…
Did he have enough strength to execute the maneuver? “The Dragon’s Turn” was much like the “Leopard’s Turn” but with subtle and deadly differences. It was made for situations like this. One man, hopelessly pursued by many. The sword trailed in the sand behind him, drawing a line of death for his pursuers. He slowed purposefully, but stumbled more than he wanted, baiting the trap. They sped up their chase, believing him at last too winded to continue. It was a fatal mis-judgement.
Kulbeck and Yangtool, nearly upon him, struck first, followed by Tanbeck and Sherkahn. They were two each on either side of the line of death. The stranger stopped suddenly, turned, and with a flick of his wrist, whipped sand into the eyes and faces of Kulbeck and Yangtool. He flipped the sword over, hilt up and blade down, as Tanbeck and Sherkahn circled quickly around either side of their companions to get at this fleeting spirit.
The whip-like slash of his sword cut Yangtool from the ground up, then, it flipped in mid air descending upon Kulbeck with the force of an angry hurricane, making the barbarian now capable of being in two places at once….
Tanbeck and Sherkahn stood mesmerized for a second by the tragic splendor of it all, then, they too fell like stunned trees before the fury of the woodsman’s axe.
Too late however, did he see the archer’s arrow, thogh he knew it was there. Too late, did he whirl around, his sword blade snapping from it’s masters sheath once again.
Too late did the blade, like an angry serpent, bite the arrow in to. Too late did Lt. KarSalas’ patrol arrive to prevent the burning shaft from sinking deep into the already wounded shoulder, with all the searing hiss and pain of a bite from a fire spitting Dragon…