Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

about the author

Previously: Kael learns of the city's past -- how its one time leader, the respected Kelmar, delved too deeply into dark and forbidden tomes -- specifically, the Texts of Orta -- twisting his soul and granting him supernatural power and immortality. It is he who now leads the sub-human Thrait and lays siege to the city he once ruled...

CHAPTER FOUR:  The Barrier

‘You want me to stay here and die alongside you?’ Kael said incredulously. ‘The things you have told me, I’d be a fool to stay within these walls.’

‘Unless we can end this siege, you have no choice, my friend,’ Siman told him grimly.

‘I have no choice? What kind of treachery is this? Am I to be your prisoner?’

Olver stopped walking and turned to face the big Nomad, laying a placating hand on his thick forearm.

‘No, no, my friend. You are our guest, but now you have entered the city, Kelmar will not allow you to leave. It is he who holds you prisoner, not us.’

‘Why shouldn’t I just walk out of here and continue my journey? What is there to stop me?

‘You can walk out of the city at your pleasure, Kael. Yet you have no horse. If you could find someone willing to sell you one, it would do you no good. You would not get past the edge of the clearing.’ Olver said.

‘You think the Thrait would kill me? I’d paint the grass red with their entrails if they tried to stop me.’

‘It is doubtful that they would be within sight of you as they left. They have no need to be. The barrier would prevent you entering the trees. It would kill you if you touched it.’

‘What barrier? I saw no such thing as I entered.’

‘The barrier cannot be seen, but it is there. Those who touch it are incinerated in the blink of an eye. No-one leaves, no-one comes in.’

‘I came in,’ Kael scoffed. ‘Do I look as though I was incinerated?’

‘If you came in alive, it was only because Kelmar wanted you to. He doubtless surmised that we might open the gate for you, and saw it as a chance to attack. His men had probably been following you for days. If you had been a trader you would have been dead by now, your goods in their hands instead of ours. He let you live only because he wanted to use you as a way in. No other reason.’

Kael still looked doubtful, like a rabbit trapped in a cage at a market. His eyes told the story of a man who wasn’t sure whether he was being deceived or not.

‘Come with us, Kael. Let us show you,’ Olver said.

Kael followed the two brothers to a stable near to the main gates, where three captured rassaurs were saddled and bridled for them. Olver took a piece of one of the stable boys’ dinners, which they had been interrupted eating when the three men entered. He took a well- gnawed chicken bone from the boy’s plate and dropped it into a leather pouch attached to the side of the rassaur’s saddle. He tossed the boy a copper coin as he started to protest.

‘Cease your complaining, Isan. Take yourself to The Tree for all Seasons after we return with these mounts. Tarran has fresh meat there. Tell him I sent you, you’ll not go hungry.’

The other stable boys looked at Isan and the copper coin enviously. Olver tossed him another coin.

‘Take your friends too, Isan, just don’t leave until we get back.’

Kael looked at Olver as though he were mad.

‘What do you want that for? It’s just a bone.’

‘Follow us and you will see,’ he said as he climbed into the rassaur’s saddle.

Kael put his foot into one of the stirrups and hoisted himself astride the giant reptile. He swayed slightly as he struggled to keep his balance.

‘Don’t worry,’ reassured Siman. ‘It’s no different to riding a horse. We’ve only been riding them ourselves since the Thrait raids began. You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

The two brothers dug their heels into the flanks of their mounts and laid down a steady pace. Kael lurched awkwardly along behind them, following in their wake.

As they approached the great gates, Olver called to the gatekeepers who rushed down to meet them, saluting as they came. At a word from Olver, the gates were opened and the three riders went cautiously out into the clearing, eyes and ears alert for the slightest sign of an ambush.

‘Why have we come out here?’ Kael asked his companions. ‘Do you not fear an attack by the Thrait?’

Siman looked at the sky, the position of the sun behind the clouds.

‘It would be unfortunate to meet a party of Thrait at this time of day,’ he said. ‘When you were involved in that last encounter, they were only here because of you. If they hadn’t been following you here, they wouldn’t have been here at all at that hour of the day. They prefer to attack under cover of darkness. Neither the Thrait nor their human allies have been seen during the day. Until you came, that is. I don’t think they will try the same trick twice, not now that they know that it will fail. Rest easy, my friend. We are safe at the moment.’

They stopped as they approached the edge of the forest and dismounted.

‘I’ve stopped here,’ Olver said, ‘Because I’m not sure exactly where the barrier is. It moves in and out from day to day, sometimes by as much as ten paces. I have no desire to ride headlong to my death.’

‘You mean the barrier which you spoke of is right in front of us?’ Kael said.

‘I can’t see it, but yes, I know it’s there. Kelmar won’t remove it until he has what he wants, I have no doubt of that. Watch.’

Olver bent down and picked up a smooth rounded stone the size of his fist. He threw it into the forest and it landed within sight just inside the tree line.

‘Ha!’ Shouted Kael. ‘There is nothing there, the stone is still in one piece!’

Olver fished out the chicken bone from the leather pouch at the side of the rassaur saddle.

‘Don’t be too eager to laugh yet, outlander. Watch this.’

He threw the half-eaten chicken bone towards the same spot he had tossed the stone. Not more than fifteen paces away, as the bone neared the top of it’s arc, there was a bright flash of  blinding white fire and the sound of searing heat. The bone dropped charred onto the floor, the meat that had been left on it burnt away. There was no flesh left. The carbonised bone lay on the floor, smouldering. A stench of burnt meat filled the air.

Kael looked at the bone and unconsciously backed away from the invisible barrier a few steps.

‘What in the name of Cer was that?’ he said.

‘That was the barrier.’ Siman told him.

‘But... The stone... Nothing happened...’

‘If you threw your sword through, nothing would happen to that either. The steel would pass through unharmed. Only living flesh and blood and bone is affected. Perhaps the leather on your sword’s hilt would burn, perhaps that is still close enough to living skin to be affected. Inanimate objects, vegetable matter, none of these things are harmed. Only us and our livestock.

‘It would seem I have no choice but to stay with you,’ Kael said as they rode back towards the city gates. ‘If I ever wish to get out of this accursed forest, then I must also fight. Better to die fighting than to slowly waste away waiting for this thing to end. What is it that you wish me to do?’

‘Soon it will all begin,’ Olver said. ‘The sky is already beginning to darken. Shortly the sun will set and Kelmar’s men will come. We must be ready.’

The gates were opened for them and they entered the city, making their way swiftly to the stables. The boys were there to take their mounts.

‘Make haste, Isan. Tarran will not be keen to serve you anything if the raid begins before you have eaten.’ Olver said.

Isan and his companions took the rassaurs into the depths of the stables, where they quickly began to remove the beast’s saddles and bridles. By the way they hurried in their work, there was little doubt they had no intention of missing their meal at Tarran’s inn.

The three men stepped outside, Olver eyed the greying skies nervously.

‘It’s getting late. We must be ready. Siman- make sure the call is sounded a little earlier, these clouds will mean it gets dark quickly tonight. I want everyone ready. I won’t be caught by surprise.’

Siman nodded soundlessly, and hurried off.

Kael looked at Olver quizzically.

‘You are in charge?’ he asked. He thought him a little young to be in such a position of authority. Olver was no more than five years older than himself.

‘Of the western wall guard, yes,’ Olver said. ‘So far I am the longest- serving officer on the wall. Many have died or been injured in the fighting. There are few soldiers older than myself serving on the walls now. Come, the men will be gathering for tonight’s battle. We must find you some armour.’

Next: Chapter Five: Attack from the Skies!

back to Chapter Three: A Tale of Woe

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The Crimson Blade is copyright by Chris Gordon. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)