Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

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Previously: Kael and the others covertly sneak into Kelmar's dark keep while most of his warriors are still away -- but they know the castle will still be protected, and the raiding part will return soon...

CHAPTER NINE:  Into The Keep

They crouched on a flat-roofed building only a few yards from the main keep, its dark walls towering above them. No one had heard them as they leapt from roof to roof, the buildings in the courtyard seemingly as deserted as a mausoleum.

The main gate into the keep was out of their sight. No guards were in evidence. Truly their confidence was unassailable. They would pay dearly for their complacency!

Jutting out from the side of the great walls some ten feet below them was a wide balcony, furnished with smaller versions of the crennelations that were upon the outer wall. Here, in the event of  an assault, crossbowmen or archers could take their leisure at picking off their attackers from this place of relative safety. Fortunately Kelmar had not felt the need for such precautions tonight. Instead, it would hopefully provide the party with their way into the keep.

‘Is everybody ready?’ Kael asked. A murmur of affirmation came from his companions, even Tarabus grunting agreement.

‘I’ll make the jump first,’ Kael said. ‘It’s a long way across, but the height difference should allow us to make it. Once I’m onto the balcony, I’ll  try to get the bloody  doors open. Follow one at a time, and keep an eye out for any of Kelmar’s men.’

He peered over the edge of the roof. Despite the heights they had attained on the Dragans, the ground still seemed a long way down. He checked the way was clear, then taking a few steps backwards, ran towards the edge of the roof and hurled himself into the void.

For a brief moment he was hurtling through the air, wind whipping past his ears, then the balcony seemed to rush up to meet his feet. The impact was hard and he rolled with it, ending up in a heap with his face only inches from the wall. Old injuries complained at him, and new grazes stung.

Standing up, brushing himself down as he did so, he looked up at the roof where his companions waited. Relief was etched firmly into their faces, except that of Tarabus, who looked on with indifference.

‘Come on!’ he hissed across the gap. ‘But be bloody careful, it’s a damned sight further down than it looks!.’ His companions nodded, hesitating a little as they decided amongst themselves who should be first.

Kael made his way to the door, noting with no great surprise that it was Tarabus who made the leap first, his landing even more awkward than his own undignified tumble.

In the name of Cer! The door was unlocked! It opened with only a tentative turn of the handle and swung outwards. Kael crept in silently, his sword drawn and held in front of him, ready for anything. The last of the group had by now made the leap, each landing as awkwardly as their predecessor, and at a signal, followed him inside.

They found themselves in a dormitory, likely for the keep guards judging by the belongings here- various weapons, pieces of armour, a sharpening stone- however, no guards occupied the room at that moment. They trotted quietly through the small gap between the beds, and out of the door into a plain stone corridor. Kael hesitated. Where now? Where was Kelmar? Where was Cara?

Shaking these unanswerable questions from his mind, Kael simply chose a direction at random and ran down the long straight corridor, giving only idle notice to the various similar dormitories that opened either side of him. A door yawned like a black maw at the end of the corridor, and he ran to this, hoping he would find what he was hoping for. He did.

A spiral staircase lay behind  the gloom of the entrance, steps both rising upwards and dropping downwards. He turned to his small party.

‘Here we split,’ he said. ‘Olver, Tarabus and Ivon, head downstairs. If Cara is still alive, presumably she’ll be in a dungeon of some sort down in the bowels of this place. Siman and Gurshan, you’re with me.’

Tarabus spoke, too loudly in the silence of the corridor.

‘I go with YOU, dog!’ he snarled at Kael. ‘I promised you I would be there to kill you when you betray us, and I mean to keep that promise.’

Damn the man and his fool notions! Kael clenched a fist, but managed to gain his composure enough not to knock the fool’s teeth down his throat. He sighed resignedly before speaking.

‘As you want it, Tarabus.’ he said, his voice calmer than he was. ‘Gurshan, go with Olver and Ivon. Tarabus- with me. We go upstairs- you say Kelmar likes to lord it from the top of his tower- perhaps we shall find the worm there.’ He wasted no time in running into the doorway of the gloomy staircase and hurtling up the stairs, brandishing his sword eagerly. His companions did not see the demonic light that had reappeared in his eyes. They had been lucky so far, but neither they nor their companions heading downstairs would remain undetected forever. As soon as they were seen, the alarm would be raised and they would be fighting for their lives. Soon it would begin.

They ran ever upwards, past doorways both open and closed, ignoring them as they raced for the top. Sooner than expected, the stairway levelled out and straightened into a short corridor,  a closed door blocking their way. The door was locked, seemingly unused as though no one had passed this way in some time.

‘What now?’ asked Siman. ‘How do we get that open without being rumbled?’

‘We don’t!’ said Kael, and threw all his weight at the door,  the noise rattling in their ears. The door gave a little, but did not open.

‘Quickly- get in here!’ he cried, and all three men threw their shoulders against the door. It began to give a little more, and they could see light streaming through the crack between the door and its frame as they hurled themselves at it again and again, the noise reverberating deafeningly in the confines of the staircase. They heard shouts in the distance from somewhere behind the door.

‘They’ve heard us,’ He shouted, now unmindful of the volume of his voice. ‘Let’s get this bloody door open and get in before they have a chance to be ready and waiting for us!’

The three men redoubled their efforts and with a splintering of wood, the door broke inwards and they crashed into another corridor, curving out of sight, wider,  brightly lit by small hanging oil lamps, a fine carpet along the length of it and intricate tapestries hanging along its walls. The sound of hurried footsteps and the rattling of weapons and armour came to them from just along the corridor where it  disappeared out of their vision.

‘If  there are guards along there, then no doubt they are protecting something.’ Kael shouted of the increasing noise. ‘Perhaps Kelmar himself! Come, let us dance to the bloody red song of death!’ He ran off in the direction of the approaching defenders, waving his sword above his head like a madman, yelling at the top his voice. The time for stealth was over. The madness of berserker bloodlust was upon him. Let them come! Let them die!

With Siman and Tarabus struggling to catch up with him, he ran into a group of seven guards as they hurried to the disturbance. Caught off-guard, the men were unprepared for an assault in the keep, and paid dearly.

Crashing through the knot of men, Kael felled one man with his elbow almost before they had registered he was among them, smashing it into his face as he came to a halt, the man’s nose a bloody ruin as he fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes. A second man went down moments later as Kael  turned back to face the group, his head almost severed by a well aimed slice of the  nomad’s sword.

Pulling themselves together, the remaining five men turned to face the man who had just slashed a bloody swathe through them,  fully alert, swords in hand and ready to fight. They eyed him warily as he brandished his sword in front of himself, shaking the blood from its length, which spattered into the pool  of their comrade’s blood that was blooming from the stump of his neck.

‘Come dogs!’ he shouted. ‘One at a time or all at once- you die tonight!’

The men lunged as one, pressing in on him, confident in the knowledge that five to one were good odds but still mindful of the sword that licked out at them. Only seconds had passed since this madman had attacked them, but already one of their number was dead and another sprawled out unconscious on the floor. Kael parried their first lunges easily- too many swordsmen in too little space.  

Siman and Tarabus came running around the curve of the corner, swords in hand, yelling at the top of their lungs. Two guards were dead, run through before they even had time to turn. The odds had been cut to the favour of Kael’s party and now the fight was even. One man lunged at him while the other two guards leapt at the two new opponents. Kael easily sidestepped a lunge by his attacker, and swept his sword across the man’s belly, laying him open. The man fell into a pool of his own entrails, his sword dropping from his limp hands as he dropped.

Siman had dealt with his own man, after dropping to one  knee to avoid a clumsily aimed swing at his head, he hacked at the man’s legs,  severing one at the knee. The man went down screaming, blood gouting from the stump of his severed leg, still swinging his sword madly at his opponent as his life gushed from him in a crimson tide. Siman ran him through with his sword and his wild flailing ceased, as did his screams. Tarabus had dispatched his opponent before he had hardly had time to lift his sword, and the man lay dead, his head cleaved almost in two by a massive chop that had pulverised bone and brain alike.

They wasted no time dwelling on the dead men - they would receive their judgement in the afterlife. The here and now was more important, and more shouts began to echo around them.

‘Come on!’ Kael shouted, as he sprinted off down the corridor once more, leaving his two companions to struggle to catch up again.

Next: Chapter Ten: The Crimson Blade

back to Chapter Eight: The Compound

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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.)