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Fantasy Adventure Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The sword was dull, almost black. Luthar passed it from hand to hand, trying to make sense of it. He’d not had the time after his promotion to inspect it properly, let alone practice with it. As soon as he’d retrieved his gear from his new quarters the party had set off at a blistering pace. The guild was a pack of angry wolves, bearing down on their prey. Now he sat in their hastily prepared bivouac in the freezing cold north feeling disappointed and confused. Yan was a good smith, one of the best in Teraditha, so why would he forge a dull blade?

‘Everything ok lad?’ Chadwick had approached Luthar’s solitude unseen. He sat beside him on his furs and pulled up his hood, giving him a slightly sinister appearance.

‘Does my sword look dull to you? My old blade had a much better shine.’ Luthar passed the sword, pommel first, to Chadwick for him to inspect.

Chadwick gave a chuckle, adding to Luthar’s confusion. ‘This here’s black steel. Believe me when I say that this is the finest blade that’s ever come out of Yan’s forge.’

‘Black steel? I’ve never heard of it.’

‘Not surprised lad. There’s not much of it in the world. Only place I know that mines it is Ironrock, far side of Threftall. Any that they dig up goes straight over to the royal smiths in Threftall for them to weigh and purify. No one else is allowed to forge it. Would take a master thief to get their hands on any without the say so of King Edward.’

‘So how did the guild get hold of some?’ Asked Luthar, intrigued.

‘Now that I can’t tell you, and I wouldn’t ask either. The bearer of gifts should never be questioned.’ Chadwick handed him back the sword, studying him closely. ‘You’ve got the best sword of all of us, Leyton included. I’m sure he has his reasons for giving it to you, but he hasn’t shared them with the rest of us. This I will tell you though, you’ll grow into that sword and be a bloody good fighter with it.’ He stood up and made to leave.

‘People keep telling me I’ll be great and be a blademaster and all this. How do they know already? I’ve only been promoted a few days.’

‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ With a smile, Chadwick departed, leaving Luthar fighting his thoughts once more.

The sword was a fine weapon, four feet seven inches long with a ten-inch grip and the crossguard curved slightly towards the blade. Luthar had often been told that he should become one with his sword, that it was an extension of his own arm. The notion was a disturbing one, a sword’s only purpose was to kill, how could a man go through his life purely as a device of violence and death? The thought kept Luthar awake long into the night, almost frozen to the ground in his furs.

The next morning Luthar’s thoughts were no clearer. As they rode to their target, Chadwick brought Swyft up alongside him, his face concerned.

‘Didn’t sleep much last night?’ He asked.

‘Hardly at all.’

‘Men are always scared before a fight. Any who say they’re not are liars.’

‘It’s not so much the fight that’s bothering me.’

‘Come on lad, spit it out. Somethings eating you up.’

‘Is the guild just for killers? Is that all I will be too, a killer for hire?’

Chadwick had his brow furrowed, giving Luthar his all too familiar stare. ‘We’re not just killers.’ He began, before pondering his next words carefully. ‘We’re fighters. There’s a difference.’

‘How so?’ Luthar was falling ever further into the trap of confusion.

‘Nobody asks the guild to kill someone. If they do, they get turned away pretty sharpish, because killing is what common mercenaries are for. We’re given jobs to do, protect this building, escort that wagon, resolve some dispute. Remember the mill? Flint gave that mob every chance to walk away with their lives, no fight, no blood, and no death. Sometimes people just don’t want to be helped. If that mill owner had asked us to go there and just kill the thugs, we wouldn’t have taken the job.’

‘But now we’re marching only with the intention of killing people.’

‘Almost. We want to take the life of some people who killed one of ours. That’s justice, not killing.’

‘But we’ll kill anyone who tries to stop us?’

‘Aye. But again, that serves a greater purpose. How would the guild look if we let murder go unpunished? We’d look weak to the rest of the world; they wouldn’t pay us for work anymore and all these young lads would be left alone to starve.’

‘How do we decide what cause is just, and who we should follow?’

‘Leyton and the senior members do that. My guess is Ezekiel will be a part of that conversation soon, he’s been in the guild forty-odd years now.’

‘So I don’t decide the work I take?’

‘All members get the chance to decline any work that doesn’t feel right. We’ll never force you to do something you’re not comfortable with.’

‘What if I make a wrong choice?’

‘Everyone does, that’s how we learn.’

The column stopped up ahead, and men dismounted. Squires began to rush this way and that, some carrying arms and armour, others tethering horses. Luthar brought Stepper to a halt, and made to get ready, but before he could move, Chadwick grasped his shoulder.

‘This is it lad, stick close with me and Ezekiel, we’ll get through. Don’t you worry.’

Luthar tied Stepper and Swyft next to the other horses before joining the men in a small, rocky clearing in the trees. Leyton climbed a little way up the slope to make himself visible to the men at the back.

‘Brothers of the guild. We are here to demand a price in blood for the murder of one of our own. In the face of any resistance, we will remain strong and true to our cause. We are the Warrior’s Guild, and we will have our justice!’ He bellowed the last words, holding his sword aloft.

The men cheered and drew their own weapons, every man sending a mist of breath into the air above him. The wolf pack began to advance, each one knowing their job.

Leyton brought them to a stop a few hundred yards from the palisade walls which protected the town of wooden huts. To the bloodthirsty men of the guild, it was little more than a campsite of savages. They spread out and formed a crescent to block the obvious escape routes into the trees. Luthar took his place near Chadwick and Ezekiel, all three of them with swords drawn, ready for battle. Chadwick occasionally worked his right shoulder; he’d said many a time that cold weather pained his old injury.

From the centre of the crescent strode Leyton, clad in chainmail beneath his warm furs, with his sword now sheathed at his belt. He took long confident steps with the air of a man going to meet his brother for a drink. Stopping no more than fifty yards from the closed gate of the wooden town, he waited, no hint of emotion crossed his face.

How long they waited and watched, Luthar could not say, but it felt like hours. He estimated it was nigh on midday when the gates finally opened, and their enemy strode forth. The sheer size and strength of them was intimidating, not a man amongst them stood shorter than six and a half feet. Years of fighting and hunting bears and deer in the cold north had made them strong and fearless. They wore no armour, save for the odd piece of leather showing in their layers of fur.

The man Luthar presumed to be their leader approached Leyton, he was a tall man himself, but this man of the mountains towered high above him, sneering with his rotten teeth behind a greying beard.

‘Who trespasses on my land?’ He challenged Leyton directly, ignoring the assembled men.

‘Leyton, and the men of the warrior’s guild. With whom do I speak?’

‘Yoreg the Strong. Chief of this town.’

‘Yoreg, we demand the blood of those who slayed our brother at an inn some days past. Hand them over and nobody else needs to die.’

‘Why would I give my own men to you? The strong survive and the weak die. That is the way of things.’

‘The deal is this. You surrender the men who did this and you live. Any who shelter them will also carry the mark of death.’

‘Deal?’ He let out a great booming laugh and turned to his men. ‘This soft southern baby wants to make a deal!’

The mountain folk responded with their own roaring laughter. Yoreg stretched his arms out wide to them, like some great stage actor playing to his crowd. ‘How is this for a deal?’ As quick as a flash he turned back to Leyton and grabbed the front of his cloak with his huge hands. With a sickening crunch, he brought his forehead down on the bridge of his nose and threw him back towards the guild’s men. Leyton didn’t stir.

The whistle of something flying past his ear made Luthar flinch. Before he could tell who had fired the shot, Yoreg was clutching at his neck, an arrow protruding between his fingers. Both the men of the guild and the men of the mountains watched in stunned silence as Yoreg desperately fought for air to give him life. Eventually, he fell to his knees and then into the snow, his lifeblood turning the white to red.

The two sides stared at each other, each unsure what to do without their leader. Silence hung in the air as the small armies hesitated, not even a bird offered a song from the trees.

The mountain folk moved first, letting out a great angry roar and charging towards the guild’s men, axes, and swords in the air.

Luthar ran forward, keeping pace with Chadwick, eyes set on the man who was charging back at him. Time seemed to slow, Luthar felt he had time to study every aspect of this fighter. Another brute of a man, far taller and broader than Luthar, his black hair was as dark as night. He looked young, no wrinkles troubled his eyes, and his face was smooth. He wielded a half moon axe above his head, aiming a high blow at Luthar’s face.

If he was going high, then Luthar was going low. When he was almost in range of that dreadful blade, Luthar ducked, letting the swing fly harmlessly over his head. At the same time, he drew his greatsword across the man’s belly, slicing fur, leather, and flesh. He fell forward clutching his stomach, before Luthar struck the killing blow across the back of his neck.

Time was now running double fast as Luthar peered at the battle around him. He saw Ezekiel briefly as he struck two foes down with one swing, taking one in the throat and the other in the side of the head. He had no time to look for Chadwick as the blow from a mace winded him through his ringmail, almost sending him to his knees.

This next attacker wasn’t as big as the last, but he looked older and handled the mace like an experienced soldier. Luthar sidestepped, waiting for his lungs to recover and for his opponent to make a mistake. The mace wielder raised his weapon far higher than necessary, giving Luthar the time to slash him across the chest with his sword point. He stumbled back, left hand clutching his wound, covered in blood. Wasting no time Luthar followed up with a thrust, his point finding the man’s throat, granting him instant mercy.

Before he could turn, Luthar was knocked off his feet from behind. Just avoiding the dead man, he rolled over on to his back to face his attacker, clutching the handle of his sword tight.

‘You took my son!’ Screamed the man, hefting a two-handed axe downwards at Luthar.

Luthar rolled, the axe missed him by mere inches. The second blow bounced off a rock in the snow to his right. A two-handed axe was a heavy weapon, but slow. The instant the man lifted it from the ground to strike his next blow, Luthar drew blood from his forearm with a quick slice of his blade. The axeman shot backwards, his right hand dragging the axe back clumsily. Rising to his feet, Luthar set himself, ready for the next exchange.

Facing Luthar, he snarled again, heavily favouring his right side as he swung. Luthar dodged away from the laborious blow of his injured opponent. He swung the greatsword again, catching flesh in the man’s side, and sending him to one knee. Leaping backwards, he avoided a desperate counter blow. The man was nearly beaten, after his last attack he had overbalanced and collapsed onto his back. Luthar walked to the man’s head, planting his foot firmly on his wrist to pin the axe to the ground.

‘I’m sorry, we never wanted any of this.’ Without waiting for a response, he thrust the tip of his greatsword into his heart.

Looking up once more, a grim scene met Luthar’s eyes. The battle was mostly over, bodies were strewn across the frozen ground from both sides. Desperately, he searched for Chadwick, praying silently for his safety. A great tension lifted from him as he saw him helping a bleeding Flint to his feet. Luthar made his way to them, giving mercy to another man of the mountains on his way.

‘I’d love to see you fight and not get injured someday Flint.’ Said Chadwick, panting with Flint leaning heavily on him.

‘Are you both ok?’ Asked Luthar. Flint’s wound didn’t look deep, but it was bleeding plenty.

‘We’ll live. Glad to see you still in one piece too.’ Replied Chadwick, before sitting Flint down on a fallen trunk. ‘Seen Ezekiel?’

‘Here!’ Came Ezekiel’s call a few yards away. He was limping heavily but didn’t look to be bleeding. ‘Well fought today Luthar. Do you know who that last one was?’

Luthar shook his head.

‘Hanek the Mighty. Many sworn knights have tried and failed with him. Heard he took down three paladins in one fight not so many moons ago.’

The all too familiar feeling of regret was filling Luthar again. He sighed and sat next to Flint, head in his hands, trying to erase the image of Hanek’s dead face from his mind.

One of the guild’s men called out, his voice seemingly leagues away. ‘Right lads, back to the great hall for an ale or ten!’ Cheers answered his cry with joy. Luthar felt the anger bubbling up inside him, threatening to spill over. Looking for the man who had shouted he saw many of them leaving the battlefield to head to their horses. Luthar couldn’t contain his fury, he stood on the fallen tree to hold the men to account.

‘Are we not men of the guild?’ He roared at the top of his voice. They turned back, none too happy about the delay in getting their ale. ‘Are you going to leave the bodies of men you have slain for crows and wolves?’

‘They’d do the same to us.’ Answered a voice from the crowd.

‘Do we not hold ourselves to a higher standard of honour? What sets us apart from them if not respect and decency? Give them a proper burial so they can rest, and their wives and children don’t have to watch them rot.’

‘What if we don’t?’ Another discontented member asked.

‘Then their sons and grandsons will resent us for years to come. And some day they will knock at our door, looking for vengeance. How many more need to die for no good cause?’

Amongst the gathered crowd, men looked at their brothers, unsure what to do next. Leyton, supported by Garrett and another squire, struggled to his feet, drawing the gaze of the confused men.

‘Do as he says.’ Was all he could manage through a swollen, bloody face.

Ezekiel grabbed the man closest to him, giving him a firm shove. ‘Right, you heard the man you lazy goat lovers! Get moving!’

Luthar jumped off the podium of his fallen tree to get started. He caught the eye of Chadwick on the way past, his old mentor nodded, but said nothing.

February 11, 2022 21:32

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6 comments

Graham Kinross
00:21 Feb 18, 2022

No sympathy for Yoreg, what a moron. Their tribe sound like the storm crows from Game of Thrones. I was a bit disappointed that this didn’t follow up with the imposter but revenge for the tavern massacre was due.

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James Grasham
08:30 Feb 18, 2022

Exactly! He was so obsessed with looking strong in front of his men that he couldn't see it was a fight he'll never win. The mountain folk are kind of based on the storm crows and wildings from Game of Thrones, I took a little bit from the tusken raiders from Star Wars too.

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Graham Kinross
12:47 Feb 18, 2022

Will tribes like that be a recurring thing?

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James Grasham
10:41 Feb 19, 2022

They're quite common in this particular area of the world. I'm in the process of developing their backstory and how they were formed/why they're shunned by the rest of the three kingdoms. Hopefully I can get more stories written that feature them, although after this Luthar will be heading in a bit of a new direction.

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Graham Kinross
23:29 Feb 19, 2022

You could give them a spin-off.

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James Grasham
20:37 Feb 20, 2022

I could definitely do that! Might start throwing some ideas at the wall and see if anything sticks

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