Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

about the author

Previously: Kael discovers he is as much a prisoner as the city's rightful inhabitants, as the surrounding countryside is sealed in by a lethal, supernatural barrier. He is also warned that the Thrait attack regularly, and another strike is almost due...

CHAPTER FIVE:  Attack from The SkieS!

Kael looked at the small selection of equipment available to him and sighed. The armoury was small, poorly lit, and poorly stocked. The small torch that Olver lit cast a dull orange pool of light onto a pitiful stock.

Kael took a coat of lightly-rusting ring mail, a conical steel cap trimmed with fur at its edges, a leather and copper shield, and a broad-bladed knife that he slid into his boot.

‘I am sorry for the lack of equipment, but the Thrait often steal our dead away before we can recover their effects,’ Olver said despondently. ‘Most of what is left is in constant use.’

‘This will suffice,’ Kael told him, pulling the sleeveless coat of mail over his shirt and donning the fur-trimmed steel cap. ‘I have my sword and my bow. These things will be fine.’ He picked up the shield and slid the straps over his left forearm. The thing was round, little bigger than a buckler.

‘Thank you Kael.’ Olver said. ‘From all of us.’

‘Thank you? What for?’

‘For fighting with us. For helping us.’

‘There is no other option available. I told you, I would rather die fighting than wait for death to find me lying like a dog. Where do we wait?’

Atop the wall, Kael felt the wind biting at his exposed face, carrying with it a fine, misty rain that dampened his skin. The sun had long since sunk below the horizon, and now the darkness of the night hung over them like a great black funeral shroud.

He stood in a line of men along the top of the wall, ten feet from each of his neighbours, watching the darkness beyond the merlons and embrasures in front of him. This scene was a far cry from the few guards posted during the day, ready to sound an alarm in times of trouble. These were men ready and waiting for battle.

At his right stood Olver, at his left, Siman. Tarabus stood further along the wall, doubtless watching him as closely as he watched the clearing.

Then it came, a scream of alarm that pierced the night air as someone  spotted the first of the approaching enemy. Kael scanned the clearing in front of him, yet could see no-one.

‘Where are they? In Cer’s Name, where are they?” he cried, raising his longbow.

‘It’s an aerial attack!’ Olver shouted. He pointed up into the blackness. ‘There!”

Kael stared up into the sky. At first he could see nothing, but slowly he resolved a number of tiny dots at the limit of his vision, that were even blacker than the night sky itself. He couldn’t believe it. How was this possible? Men simply cannot fly.

As the dots grew larger, he could make out the shape of great dark wings that beat slowly, long reptilian heads full of teeth, and riders atop the beasts’ backs, waving axes, maces and swords.

They were riding the great Dragans, a winged variant of the Rassaur. As the Thrait had learned to tame the Rassaur, so had they the Dragan.

Orange flames flickered into life as, the riders need for stealth gone, they lit torches, fixing them in sconces at their saddles. They crossed the clearing swiftly, losing altitude as they swooped in over the city. Fire tipped arrows rained down as the great reptiles flew over the wall.

Kael drew his longbow and took aim at one of the riders,  all of whom were now easily identifiable in the darkness by the burning torches at their saddles. He loosed the arrow and it pierced the reptile-bird through the head. He howled with delight as the huge creature span out of control to the floor of the city many feet below, taking its rider to his bloody doom.

Again and again he took aim and  hit his target, yet still many of the riders got past the wall to loose their fiery arrows upon the city. Flames took hold wherever they found dry material. Thatched roofs flared as arrows plunged deep into the straw, past the rain-dampened surface to the dryness within.

‘They’ve landed in the city!’ came a frantic cry from below. ‘The Thrait are in the city!’

Kael looked at Olver and Siman, who had both stopped firing into the sky.

‘What now?’ he shouted over the din of screams and raging fires from below.

‘B company! Stay on the wall!’ Olver screamed. ‘A company! With me!’ He ran past Kael to the steps, slapping him on the back as he did so. ‘You’re with us, my friend!’ he said, taking the steps several at a time in his haste to reach the floor of the city.

Kael needed no encouragement. He threw down his bow, drew his sword and joined A company as they hurried to repel the invaders. Men women and children ran every which way in the streets, some carrying buckets of water to douse the fires, others running, sword in hand to attack the landing Thrait, others simply running for their lives. He spotted a Thrait chasing a lone woman into an alley. He left his companions to follow, swiftly catching his quarry as the alley closed in a dead end. The Thrait was advancing on the woman, knife in hand, when he heard Kael behind him. He span on his heels, his face contorted into a snarl, his long teeth glinting in the darkness.

He launched himself at Kael, lunging with his black knife. Kael easily side-stepped the clumsy attack, and his sword flashed briefly in the darkness. The Thrait collapsed into the mud of the alley, his throat laid open by Kael’s naked steel. The frightened woman called her thanks as he sped from the alley to rejoin the forces he could hear up ahead.

Outside the ‘Tree of all seasons’, all hell had broken loose. Ten Dragans had landed in the broad courtyard, their riders dismounted and storming towards the building. Olver, Siman and Tarran were fighting in a knot of men as the raiders attempted to enter the inn. Tarran swung a huge double bladed war-axe, it’s twin half-moon shaped blades cutting a lethal silver arc through the air before separating a man’s head from his shoulders. He screamed with a berserker rage as he waded into the ever increasing throng of Thrait and mercenaries that landed their Dragans in the city, eager to carry off a victim for Kelmar’s vile depredations.

Kael leapt into the throng, his sword a blur as he sliced and stabbed his way through the invaders. A scream cut through the air, high pitched and desperate. A mercenary had smashed his way into the inn and now had Cara draped across his shoulder. She was beating at the man’s armour with her fists and biting him wherever she could reach his exposed flesh, but the big man did not release her. Before any of the men could reach him, his was atop his mount with his prize, already rising into the air. One of the guards raised his crossbow towards the ascending beast, taking a bead on it. Kael batted the bow away.

‘Don’t be a bloody fool!’ he yelled. ‘You’ll kill the girl!’

Around them the fighting was growing less frantic as many of the surviving invaders started to retreat and remount. Kael ran over and hacked the head from one of the creatures as it began to take off. It fell into a heap on the ground, hurling its Thrait rider to the pave. One of the townsmen ran him through before he could regain his feet.

Kael cried out in pain as one of the Dragans grabbed him by the shoulders, it’s talons piercing the links of his mail coat and digging into his flesh. He felt himself being lifted into the air as the rider guided his mount upwards with his new prize for Kelmar. The big nomad dropped his sword and grabbed the bird’s legs above his head, trying to take the pressure off the deep wounds where the beast’s claws had gouged him. With one hand, his other arm still entwined around one thick scaly limb, he reached into his boot and slid the knife free from where he had stowed it earlier.

Looking down briefly at the ever-increasing distance between himself and the floor, he gritted his teeth and thrust the broad blade upwards into the reptile’s underbelly. A shriek of  pain came from the creature, a cry of alarm from its Thrait rider. Blood ran down the blade and spattered onto his face as he thrust again, this time twisting and tearing with the knife as he withdrew it.

The rider, now truly realising his plight, uttered a few panicked words of command, and Kael felt the mighty beast’s grip relax and let him go, yet he did not fall. He hung onto the bird’s leg, determined to both finish what he had started, and to stay with the beast as it plunged toward the ground, making use of whatever flight it was still capable of, using its slow spiral downwards to choose his moment for leaping off, so that he might find a better landing after his fall.

He thrust the knife in again and again as the beast refused to accept its fate, opening a hole in it’s belly, and slippery coils of intestine fell onto him, warm blood soaking him as the bird finally ceased it’s flapping. He did not have long. The ground was a mere sixty feet below him and he was heading towards it fast at an acute angle, the crude parachute of the creature’s leathery wings only slightly slowing his steep descent. He saw the ‘Tree of all seasons’ below him and jumped. The inn seemed to rush up to meet his feet, and he hit the thatched roof  with enough speed to punch through it into the room below. He hit the floor with a thud loud enough to wake the dead, an impact which jarred every bone in his body and drove the wind from his lungs. Momentarily unable to move, he lay on his back on the hard floor amidst the debris and stared up at the stars through the hole in the roof with swimming vision. The door of the room burst open and Siman ran in breathlessly.

‘Kael! In the name of Cer, are you hurt?’ he cried as he knelt at his side, half expecting his friend’s spine to be broken or his legs smashed. He looked on in horror as he saw the blood that soaked Kael’s skin, the remnants of the beast’s viscera and life fluids mingling with the blood that ran from the nomad’s own wounds.

Kael wrenched himself into a sitting position, his spine feeling as though it really were  broken, his bleeding shoulders a melange of stabbing pain where the bird had gripped him, his earlier shoulder wound throbbing  angrily. His whole body felt as though it were on fire.

‘I have never felt better,’ he hissed through clenched teeth, even the effort of speaking sending waves of pain through his battered frame. ‘Help me stand up.’

Siman wrapped an arm around his friend and supported him as he struggled to his feet.

‘How goes the battle?’ Kael asked.

‘Bar a few stragglers, it is over. For tonight anyway. the fires still burn though, and we must attend our wounded and pick up our dead.’

‘And Cara?’ he asked. A look of misery and despair washed over Siman’s face.

‘She is gone,’ he said. Kael thought it best not to press the matter further.

Out in the courtyard, several soldiers were trying to corral the rider less dragans. The huge creatures eyed them malevolently, yet did not seem to object.

‘Could we not ride these beasts and attack Kelmar ourselves?’ Kael asked. He spotted his sword lying on the slabs of the courtyard and hobbled over to it. He bent to pick it up, then looked along the length of  it’s blade. As ever, it’s edge was undamaged. He wiped some of the gore from it onto his tattered shirt before he resheathed it.

‘Those creatures would tear a man’s arm off before they allowed him to touch them,’ Siman said. ‘Unlike the rassaurs, none but their masters can touch them, let alone ride them.’

Kael contemplated the winged horrors silently.

‘What are you thinking about?’ Siman asked him as he saw the nomad’s thoughtful expression. ‘Many of our people have tried and failed. Those creatures cannot be ridden. Before long they will return to their pens.’

‘Then herd them into a barn, and if they try to fly away, hit them with a stick!’

‘Very well, but on your own head be it!’ Siman walked over to the soldiers who were rounding up the bird-creatures and spoke a few brief words to them. They looked over at Kael as though he were mad, then shrugged their shoulders and nodded.

Siman returned to Kael’s side.

‘It will be done,’ he said. ‘Yet I tell you, you are mad to even think of trying to ride one.

‘We shall see,’ said Kael. ‘For now though, let us attend to these fires.’ He started to run awkwardly towards a nearby building where a group of men and women had formed a chain of buckets to a nearby well. The water being thrown onto the flames flashed into steam almost instantly, such was the intensity of the heat. Although it appeared the battle to save the building was lost, Kael wished to do anything that he could to help. He stopped in his tracks as he heard a shout from across the courtyard.

‘All that has happened, yet still you treat him as though he were your long-lost brother, Siman!’ It was Tarabus, standing by the door to the inn. ‘You and Olver are fools to trust him. Can you not see what is happening? Open your bloody eyes, you fools!’

‘What is it that you accuse our guest of now?’ Olver asked Tarabus, joining his brother and Kael where they stood.

‘It is strange, is it not, how so many of the riders came straight to this inn?’ Tarabus cried. ‘The particular inn where our visitor is staying?’

‘You think Kael was somehow instrumental in all of this?’ Siman said, aghast. ‘You speak like an angry fool, Tarabus. You have seen him killing the Thrait with your own eyes. This man is no friend of Kelmar.’

‘That is precisely what he wants you to believe, no doubt,’ scoffed Tarabus. ‘Yes I have seen him killing Thrait, both outside the gates and here in the city tonight. It proves nothing. What a brilliant way to gain your trust, letting you see him killing our enemies. What price the lives of a few Thrait and hired soldiers in comparison to having eyes and ears in the stronghold of your enemy? Doubtless he conspires with his dark master when he is alone, by some foul sorcery or another.’

Siman glared angrily at Tarabus.

‘Despite the fact that he has not been alone since he regained consciousness, Tarabus, why on earth would he summon the raiders here if he were in contact with Kelmar? It would serve only to betray him as a spy. Only a fool would consider such an action.’

Tarabus thought for a moment.

‘Perhaps he has taken a shine to Cara. No doubt his master will reward him well for his loyal service. Perhaps Cara will be a part of that reward. The raiders did spend considerable effort in her capture, after all,’ he suggested.

‘Can you bring yourself to trust no-one, any longer, Tarabus?’ Olver asked. ‘The raid was a coincidence, nothing more. You saw what happened, Kael was almost taken himself.’

‘Another act for our benefit. You have been well-fooled, Olver. Siman too. Even Tarran has been made to look a fool by believing this savage’s lies.’

‘Do you accuse me of being a poor judge of character, Tarabus?’ boomed Tarran, who had been standing to one side listening to the exchange intently. He strode over, his face flushed with anger, still carrying the fearsome battle-axe in one hand, as easily as a smaller man might carry a wood-chopping hatchet.

‘Can you not see what is happening?’ whimpered Tarabus, shrinking visibly as the massive frame of Tarran loomed over him.

‘Be quiet, Tarabus,’ Tarran said firmly, his words delivered with a tone that brooked no argument. ‘I know that you have lost much, my friend, we all have. I have seen my only child wrenched from underneath my nose this very evening, but I cannot yet grieve. People in this city need our help. Their homes burn, their wounds bleed. Do not waste your energy on this senseless vendetta, Tarabus, save it to help those that need you.’ Tarran laid one massive hand on Tarabus’s shoulder to placate him, his glare softening.

Tarabus truculently shook himself free of the big man’s grip, and with a final glare at Kael, stalked from the courtyard.

Next: Chapter Six: Maiden Flight

back to Chapter Four: The Barrier

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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.)