Note from the author: This story contains a few instances of strong language.
‘Bloody hell Flint!’ Luthar exclaimed as he stood up in his stirrups, straining to get a better view of the city up ahead.
‘Threftall, capital of Peccothia and the biggest city in all the three kingdoms.’ Flint replied, chuckling at the wonder plastered across Luthar’s face.
The white stone it was built from seemed to give out its own light, a stark contrast against the dull grey cliffs behind. Water plummeted from the high ridge, straight down into the city itself, spray falling on the red tiled roofs at the north side of the city. Mighty pointed towers stretched high above the walls, each bearing the red and gold royal standard of Peccothia. As he stared ahead to the enormous city, he felt suddenly very small and insignificant, the capital city of his home was beautiful, yet slightly overpowering.
Luthar slumped back into his saddle and rubbed at Stepper’s neck fondly. She’d felt his excitement and was tensing slightly, Luthar marvelled at how she was so in tune with his emotions. ‘It’s ok girl, nearly there now.’ He soothed her back into her gentle stride.
‘Let’s pick up the pace, we’ve wares to sell and gold waits for no man.’ Old Ben’s voice cracked as sharp as the whip he used to drive his horses. He was a good sort, mostly, except for an obvious impatience when there was money to be earned.
‘We’ll be there before night falls; don’t you fret about that!’ Flint called back to him over his shoulder, before directing an ever so slight shake of his head at Luthar.
It was at that moment that Edryg galloped to the front of their small column, blasting Luthar with a frown that could melt steel. Since their latest entanglement with the Cult of Lazmurol at the Compass Crossroads, he’d regained his strength and vitality remarkably well. When pushed for an explanation, he’d dismissed their concerns with a wave of his hand, blaming it on some rare magic the fellow had used without his knowing.
‘Someone’s tracking us. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. Keep a sharp lookout and don’t stop. I’ll head for that rise and see if I can spy whoever they are.’
‘Right y’are.’ Replied Flint, barely paying any attention.
‘Connell is bringing up the rear, shout him if you need to, and he’ll do the same.’
‘Ride safe.’ Flint called to Edryg’s back as he set off towards the crest of the hill at a gallop. He then turned to Luthar with a shake of his head. ‘I reckon that old bastard’s mad you know.’
‘I wouldn’t tell him that, he’d chuck you in some dungeon and you’d never see the light of day again.’
‘That’s probably fair.’ Flint replied before facing ahead down the road once more.
A little way ahead, a small cluster of houses sat a short way off the road, chimneys smoking against the clear blue sky. One such building caught Luthar’s attention, a great mass of sprawling extensions added haphazardly around one central brick tower. The gentle breeze caused a rusted metal sign to squeak slightly as it swayed back and forth, proclaiming the Merchant’s Rest Inn. Luthar’s mouth watered as he licked his lips in anticipation of good food and even better ale.
‘Don’t think we’re stopping there; I’ve got deliveries to make.’ Old Ben piped up as if he’d read Luthar’s thoughts.
‘We won’t stay long, just a taste of ale and a quick bite. Surely as your loyal guards and escort we’ve earned that much at least?’ Luthar gave him his best winning smile over his shoulder, trying to win the old man round.
‘All right, fine. But you’re buying.’ He replied in that harsh voice he had, clearly trying to disguise that saving a few pennies had been his plan all along.
Luthar exchanged grins with Flint again, they’d done very well out of this job and Lord Wedderburn had pressed a reward upon them both for agreeing to travel with Edryg and Connell, so buying Old Ben some food and drink wouldn’t leave them short. Even the weather was holding out as they were on the home stretch. Life was definitely looking up.
A bird chirped somewhere off to their left as they approached the great inn, it’s song a welcome addition to the cosy nature of the small village. Curious, thought Luthar, nobody seemed to be outside. Where were the traders and travellers, stableboys and smiths? The hamlet took on an eerie feel as a cloud rolled over the sun and cast it into a dreary gloom. Luthar held up his hand for them all to stop, feeling the hair stand up on the back of his neck. Something was wrong.
Something zipped through the air, making Luthar flinch as it passed inches from his face. Not a second after, Lucas yelped as he fell back, tugged hard on the reins of his horse, making him rear and dump him flat on his back. More arrows flew over them as Luthar steered Stepper behind the massive wagon where Old Ben had scrambled for cover, an old mace clutched in his knobbly hand.
‘Looks like you’re really earning my money now lad!’ Old Ben had an excited grin on his face, like he’d been yearning for someone to take a chance on his fine possessions.
‘We could’ve done without this.’ Luthar replied as Flint skidded down behind him.
‘Looks like a good dozen of them, Connell’s seeing if he can get around the other side. Shit!’ He sprinted back out to Ed who had a fistful of Lucas’s jacket and was dragging him towards safety.
When they’d dragged Lucas under the wagon and torn off his jacket and shirt, they realised he was bleeding profusely from a wound in his shoulder. The arrow hadn’t stuck, so he’d mend, but he was losing a lot of blood. Old Ben shoved Flint aside and wrapped a strip of linen around him as best he could, the deep red blood seeping into the white like spilled wine.
‘I’ll look after him, you do what you need to do.’ He said with his old hands pressing down to stop the bleeding.
Luthar drew his sword and strapped his shield to his left arm, realising this could get messy. To his right, he could see Flint had done the same, stony determination had replaced his usual cheery grin.
The sound of clashing steel floated over from the buildings; Connell must have engaged them. The two friends exchanged a brief nod, broke cover and sprinted for the nearest men in the confusion.
The first man Luthar reached stared in horror as he bore down on him. On an instinct, he tried to block Luthar’s swing with his bow. The black steel cleaved straight through wood and flesh alike, sending him down onto the dirt. Another managed to draw his sword and take a clumsy swing which glanced harmlessly off Luthar’s pauldron and stuck into a rotten wooden pillar of the stable. Luthar took his chance and ran him straight through, his life bleeding away in seconds. He whirled away and only just stopped himself swinging at the familiar face in front of him.
‘Bloody hell Flint!’ He panted as he lowered his sword.
‘I think that’s them all, a couple ran off over the fields that way.’ Flint pointed a lazy thumb over his shoulder as he spoke. ‘Come on, let’s see how Lucas is doing.’
As they rounded the corner of the old stables, a grim scene emerged. The wagon had been reduced to one wheel, leaning dangerously over to one side. A couple of the brutish guards that Old Ben had employed alongside Luthar and Flint lay still in pools of blood. Old Ben himself swung his battered mace haphazardly as the great beast from nights before in the forest advanced on him, pace by steady pace.
Connell ran up beside them, panting from the effort with blood running down the front of his usually immaculate armour.
‘What in the hell is that thing?’ He pointed his sword towards the seed of Lazmurol as if he were not quite sure what he was seeing.
‘That’s the seed of Lazmurol. I suggest we go together.’ Flint replied calmly as if the seed hadn’t beaten seven shades of shit out of him a couple of weeks previous.
The three of them set off at a run towards the giant. Luthar thought he looked even bigger in the daylight if that was even possible. He caught a swing on his blade, the shock reverberating up his arms as he strained with everything he had to keep that enormous sword away from his face. Flint drove his blade into the trusty gap under the arm, Connell’s found the join at the neck. A blood curdling wail split Luthar’s skull in two as the beast was wounded.
A boot found Luthar’s chest, sending him skidding across the dirt, winded. Steel rang against steel as he struggled to his feet and gasped for air. He could see Old Ben was giving it his best, his mace bouncing off ever more dinted and scraped black armour plates. He couldn’t be shown up by an old merchant, so he set off again to bring the fight to the mountain of a man.
Luthar’s first blow was swatted away by a plate covered hand, his second only screeched against the chest plate and bounced off. This wasn’t working, he had to think fast.
‘Get them blades in the gaps again and see if you can hold his arms!’ He commanded the three others, an idea quickly forming in his mind.
Connell’s blade slipped into the neck joint again. As a giant hand tried to swat him away, he wrapped his other arm around it, holding it under his own armpit. Flint’s sword dashed of the side of the breastplate as he worked patiently for the opening. It came when Old Ben’s mace smashed into the back of the giant’s helmet, stunning him for a brief second. That awful wail came again as the steel slipped and crunched inside. Flint copied Connell and heaved on the mighty arm to try and stop it moving.
‘Whatever you’re doing, do it quick.’ He managed to call out as he wrestled with the flailing limb.
Luthar dropped his shield and drew his shorter blade with his left hand. He worked his fingers on the grip, waiting for his opening. As the three men struggled with the giant, they dragged him back, taking him off balance. Luthar spied his chance and thrust his arming sword point first into the gap at the top of the cuisse. One leg kicked violently out as the giant struggled harder, ever more desperate.
The group, ever more off balance, sagged backwards and collapsed onto the dirt in a heaving mass. Flint, Connell and Old Ben struggled on top, trying to keep their foe pinned down. Short sword in hand, Luthar dived onto his chest, teeth gritted so hard his jaw screamed in protest.
It was like trying to stay on an unruly horse, the giant thrashed like all hell against the four of them. Luthar fumbled with the helmet, trying to find a join to open the faceguard. He found a slight gap and tore at it with all his might. With a grating and slight bending, it came away revealing a face, surprising in only how normal it looked. He was not a young man, but not terribly old, neither dark nor fair. Long brown hair stuck to the beads of sweat on his skin, a close-cropped beard of the latest fashion covered a strong jawline. Before he began to think of this being as human, Luthar slammed the point of his short sword into his soft, fleshy neck, feeling the point scrape against the inside of the steel helmet.
His back arched as his mouth opened wide in a noiseless scream. For a second his body was wound tight, like a longbow string moments before it fires the arrow. After a few seconds he lay still, peaceful almost as if he’d not been trying to kill them moments before. The bird called again, oblivious to what had just come to pass at this tiny settlement.
They all slowly eased themselves to their feet, groaning as various aches and pains stabbed them once more. Now the Adrenalin had subsided, Luthar’s chest felt like it had caved from the boot he’d taken. His ribs burned like fire with every breath he drew.
‘Luthar.’ Flint’s voice from behind him.
‘What?’ Luthar turned to see what he wanted.
Through the village marched a dozen of the giants, all clad in the same black, spiked armour that the seed of Lazmurol had donned. A procession of very dangerous beasts, the thump thump thump of their boots warned they were ready to do some serious damage. Now only twenty yards away, they drew giant black swords in perfect unison, points bobbing up and down as they advanced.
‘Bloody hell Flint!’ Were the only words Luthar could muster as he squeezed the handle of his sword tight in his right hand. It was the finest forged, deadliest weapon for miles around, yet now it felt little more than a letter opener.
He bent his knees slightly, ready to counter whatever came at him first. Better to die fighting than give up with a whimper, no matter how high the odds were stacked against you. That gleaming tip was less than ten yards away when an almighty explosion erupted, sending clods of dirt and grass into the air. The world turned upside down as Luthar realised he was weightless, trees, buildings and roads all spun in and out of his vision as he careered through the air. Instinctively he let go of his sword, if he survived the fall he didn’t want to meet his end stabbed with his own blade.
The ground rose up to meet him and smashed the wind out of him, far worse than the seed’s boot had done earlier. Spots of colour popped in his vision as the world seemed to spin even faster. The metallic taste of blood seeped into every corner of his mouth. He coughed and red liquid splashed over his mail and down his chin. He lifted his head to try and right himself, but the rest of his body would no longer obey him. Sagging back down, the corners of his vision went dark. It spread like the curtains closing after the final show was done. They met in the middle and Luthar floated away, no longer feeling pain.