Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

about the author

Previously: Kelmar and his companions fly the captured dragans to Kelmar's dark keep, taking advantage of the fact that most of his warriors will be off on their regular raids of the city, leaving the sorcerer himself relatively unguarded...


The six men stood at the bottom of the massive wall, close against it so that anyone who cared to glance over the parapet would not see them. It was huge, its great curve almost imperceptible to them now they stood next to it, as the curve of a jar would seem to an insect. Made from regular blocks of well- fitted stone, it towered above them to a height of more than seventy feet. Kael shuddered inwardly. Olver and Siman had told him that this structure had been built almost overnight. If that were true, then the magical energies used must have been immense. It would take many men years to build such a thing in the conventional manner. Indeed, it once had taken such a time.

‘I’ll never get up there!’ whispered Siman in a concerned tone. ‘I’m a terrible climber!’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll go up alone, then find a rope or something to throw down to you,’ Kael told him.

‘More likely fetch some of  Kelmar’s men!’ Tarabus said, in a voice that was much too loud for comfort.

‘You’ll fetch them on us yourself, you bloody fool!’ hissed Olver. ‘You’ll finish up getting us all killed!’

‘Olver is right, Tarabus,’ Kael said in a manner that suggested even his patience was wearing a little thin. ‘However- I could use a spare set of hands once I’m atop the wall. Can you climb?’

‘Of course I can,’ Tarabus snorted.

‘Then follow me,’ Kael said, and without another word, began to clamber up the wall.

Though the stones were well-fitted, as though by the finest stonemasons, the joins between the blocks were as good as a ladder to the big Nomad’s skilful fingers and toes, and he scaled the wall with ease. Tarabus followed behind at a surprisingly agile pace. Kael suspected that he did not wish to be outdone by a man whom he regarded as his enemy. As they neared the top, Kael held out a hand, the fingers spread, the palm turned downwards. Tarabus could interpret the gesture as nothing other than wait.

Kael could hear the guard only a few feet above his head. If the man were only to lean over the parapet, then he would see the pair of them clinging to the wall like flies. And if that happened, all was lost. All it would take was for one guard to raise the alarm, and all hell would break loose. Without the element of surprise, this attack could never work. With so few men at their disposal, surprise was the one small advantage that they had. To lose that would mean death for all of them.

As soon as the guard had passed directly overhead, Kael gingerly lifted himself into a position where he could peer cautiously over the wall. Satisfied the guard was facing away from him, he pulled himself up and over the parapet, landing on the wide walk beyond as silently as a spectre. Short knife in hand, keeping low, so as not to be noticed by the other guards, he stealthily crept up on his prey. Wrapping one hand around the man’s mouth to stifle any cry of alarm, he pulled his victim backwards and sharply drew his knife across the man’s throat. Warm blood bubbled over his hands and the guard struggled feebly for a few brief moments, his hands clawing at his own neck as though to prevent his lifeblood leaking from him, his spear making too much noise as it dropped to the ground, then the body went limp in Kael’s arms. Holding his breath, he waited for the shout of alarm, yet none came. He lowered the corpse to the floor carefully and quietly, then returned to Tarabus and beckoned him upwards, his finger set to his lips to emphasise the need for silence. As Tarabus reached the top, Kael reached over with one hand and helped to drag him over the parapet.

Tarabus’s eyes grew wide as he saw the dead guard lying only a few feet away in a pool of blood that seemed black in the moonlight, yet he remained silent.

‘We need to find a rope,’ Kael said as Tarabus crouched on the walkway next to him. ‘Stay here and act like the guard. Here-take this spear.’ He grabbed the spear that the dead man had dropped, and handed it to Tarabus. ‘Walk up and down like he did. Sooner or later, one of the other guards will note his absence- with luck on our side they’re far enough away not to see the difference in this light if you replace him.

Running stealthily along the parapet, Kael soon found a narrow staircase of stone steps that had been built alongside the wall. He was down at ground level inside the courtyard of the keep within seconds, moving silently through the numerous outbuildings looking for a rope long enough to allow the others access to the top of the wall. Against a long building, doubtless barracks for Kelmar’s mercenary army, stood a stable. Satisfying himself that it was unoccupied, Kael entered the building and by the weak moonlight filtering in through the small barred windows, soon found what he was looking for, a coil of rope hanging upon the far wall of the stable, stout enough and long enough for the task at hand. He ran the length of the building and grabbed the rope, throwing one burly arm through it’s coils so it rested on his shoulder.

Turning for the door, he froze. Something was watching him. He felt unseen eyes boring into him, studying him intently. Interminable seconds passed as he waited in the near darkness, staring into the shadows for something to happen, for the tiniest movement to give his watcher away, yet still no attack came, nor was any cry of alarm given. He shrugged his shoulders, then chided himself for allowing the tension to affect him like a boy on his first stag hunt. What was he thinking? Time was a commodity they had precious little of, yet here he was wasting it. He ran for the door.

The attack was swift. Only a brief hiss a fraction of a second before the lunge of the rassaur’s head gave Kael enough warning to move his head far enough out of reach of those massive jaws as they snapped shut again and again, mere inches from his face, blocking his path.

This time he wasted no precious seconds and acted on pure instinct, pulling out his knife and ramming it into the base of the creature’s skull beneath it’s lower jaw. The blade drove upwards and pierced the creature’s small brain, killing it before it’s death throes could alert anyone. Letting the creature slump back into it’s stall, he ran from the stable and retraced his steps to the top of the wall. Tarabus started as Kael reappeared silently.

‘What took you so long, savage?  Informing your master of our arrival, no doubt. Don’t forget- you will die before I do if you have betrayed us!’ Tarabus hissed.

Kael swallowed his anger at the fool in front of him and hurled the heavy coil of rope at him, which hit him full in the chest, knocking the wind from him.

‘Tarabus, shut the hell up for once and find something to tie that rope onto!’ he spat, almost forgetting where he was. ‘And be bloody quick about it- Kelmar’s troops won’t remain at Varl all night you know!’

Tarabus busied himself with looping the rope around one of the crennelations atop the wall, while Kael paced backwards and forwards with the spear in the manner of the guard. Satisfied that his knots were tight, and the rope secure, Tarabus threw the other end over the parapet to his waiting companions. Shortly the whole party was reunited once more, crouching in the darkness and waiting for Kael’s next move.

‘We have to make a decision,’ he told them. ‘Either we all go inside the wall, and like now, risk the possibility of one of the other guards noticing  their companion’s absence , or one of us has to stay here to keep up the pretence.’

‘I say we all go,’ said Olver to the group. ‘I know that I cannot see the next guard along the wall in either direction, though doubtless Kael can- he seems to have an uncanny knack for seeing in the dark- and I for one am willing to take a chance that those guards have no better sighting of our position here, than we have of theirs. We may need all our meagre numbers if we are to finish this ordeal alive.’

The others all nodded in agreement, some adding grunts of approval.

‘Very well then- we all go,’ said Kael. Follow me- quietly.’

Kael turned round and looked at he gap between the wall and roof of one of the nearby outbuildings. ‘Can everyone get across here without breaking their neck?’ he said. They all nodded, but looked puzzled.

‘Why not use the steps down into the courtyard?’ Siman asked.

‘If there are people around, that’s most likely where we’ll meet them,’ Kael said. ‘I’ve already risked it once, and that’s once too often. Add that to the fact that the front door of the keep is hardly likely to be left wide open for us, and we have at least two good reasons for staying on the roofs as long as possible. Height, in my experience, lends good opportunity for the entering of locked buildings.’ He grinned at them, a flash of white teeth in the darkness, then leapt the short gap to the first roof.   

Leaping from roof to roof, staying low as they crested the ridges lest they be seen by some idle glance of a guard, they steadily made their way towards the black monolith that was the keep itself.

‘Aiii!’ hissed Tarabus, as a loose tile, dislodged by his foot, slid noisily down the roof to smash onto the floor below, threatening to take him with it as he struggled to regain his balance. Kael grabbed one of his flailing arms and pulled him upright, noting the man’s face, a glare that burnt into him, an expression of indignity that he had been saved by the savage that he hated with so much venom. Balance reaffirmed, Tarabus snatched his arm away from his rescuer without so much as a grunt of thanks.

The party huddled low on the roof, dreading the shouts of alarm that would surely come. In the still of the night the noise of the falling tile had seemed deafening to their ears, and every man amongst them prepared themselves for the hail of arrows that would be showered upon them.

Yet all remained silent. No shouts, no arrows. They remained undetected. Cer himself was watching over them tonight, it seemed.

They remained motionless for several moments before Kael broke the silence.

‘We are fortunate.’ he whispered. ‘It seems that everyone has gone to Varl, or is just too confident in that damned barrier to expect an attack within the compound. They shall pay dear for their complacency.’ He grinned, a grim, animal smile, his eyes seeming to glow with demonic fires that made his companions shudder inwardly. He was prepared to spill blood tonight, and woe betide any who stood before him.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘We have dallied here long enough- the raiding party will soon return from Varl. Let us finish our work here before they do. And watch out for those bloody loose tiles!’

Next: Chapter Nine: Into the Keep

back to Chapter Seven: The Raiding Party

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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.)