A Story of Faelon
Rising above the din, a scream.
Taglen didn’t think it came from one of his own, but neither had he heard any of them scream before. He pressed his back against the large stone. Megaliths lay strewn across the field, in clusters of five or seven, leaning every which way and on each other like drunken warriors after a good day’s fighting. Darthak had commanded him to hide in this particular group of rocks until his Karl called for him to join the fight. Around him the battle swirled unseen but not unheard. The air filled with the clang of weapon on armor and the cracking of bone and the cries of the wounded.
He tightened his grip on his spear and shook his elbow to seat the strap of his shield. Older warriors had told him countless times not to fear battle, but to fear the waiting. Waiting could steal the heart of a man before he felled a single foe. Taglen had filled a thousand enemy warriors with the point of his flint-tipped spear. Yet those warriors had been canvas and straw, strapped to a stake awaiting his assault, silently accepting his victory without resistance. Today, the man he thrust his spear into would be of flesh and blood, and would fight back.
War raged all around his rocky haven. His freeband numbered six and he thought the enemy fielded twice as many. The battle had begun only moments ago, after Keliva spotted the enemy scout. But to Taglen’s ears, to his mind, to his heart, it could have been a battle of thousands that had lasted all day. He had just crouched behind this stone or maybe he had been here for a year…he could no longer tell. He wanted it over, his first taste of blood. He wanted to be back in camp, on a footing with the others, putting the first embellishments on a story that would make him a hero to his grandchildren. At this moment, he didn’t even know if he’d live that long. Will I get hit? Will I do well? Will I cower? Will I miss? Will it hurt? Will we win?
He found himself wringing his spear like a wet rag and made himself stop. There had only been the one scream, but the sounds still made a din. Shouts in the vulture tribe’s screechy dialect. Metal on wood. Grunts. Someone moaning. The growl of a bear – Keliva – so at least she was still alive.
And then, his name.
“TAGLEN!” A roar above the roar. Darthak had that way of cutting his voice through all other noise like a wolf howling outside the camp. One moment, all clanks and yells and groans and running footsteps. The next, only one sound that mattered.
His legs moved before he knew to command them. He leapt from behind his rock and turned instinctively towards the Wolfkarl’s voice. He ran.
Chaos. Someone down, on their back and moaning. From the sound of her, Eberis the slinger. A nasty deep cut down her right shoulder. A vulture tribesman face-down in a pool of blood. The axe of the boar warrior rising and falling on his opponent like a woodcutter at his business. Keliva in the distance, her eyes rolled back and chanting. In the midst, Darthak. The big man swept his great wolfsword in wide arcs at the three men around him. Instantly, Taglen knew what he wanted. The Karl’s three opponents, a darkly tattooed clan warrior and two younger fighters, had their backs to Taglen. Darthak wanted him to run straight at one and shove his spear in him.
He crossed the ground in three breaths. One of the enemies turned toward him, too late. Taglen’s spear took him in the side, a sickening jolt of flint in flesh and a cry of horror. The man flailed in his dying. Taglen struggled to maintain his grip. The other young warrior swung at him. Darthak’s wolfsword took that one’s head off in a clean slice that did not even slow the big blade down. Taglen ripped his spear free just in time to raise his shield against a blow. The impact drove him to his knees and sent splinters scattering from his shield, which barely held. Before he could regain his feet, the enemy warrior dove at him, knocking him flat on his back and landing atop him. Struggling for breath, Taglen beat the man furiously with his fists. Then he realized his foe was already dead.
Shoving the body off of him, he grabbed his spear…and found the battle ended. The Wolfkarl stood over him, a beefy hand extended to help him up. Taglen grunted with the effort, still short of wind. He would have bruises all over. The copper taste of blood tanged his mouth.
“Done well,” Darthak said.
Taglen gathered up his spear and nearly useless shield. “Knocked on ass.”
“Alive and on ass. Did what asked.”
Taglen nodded and looked around. From what he could tell, when Darthak had slain the last of their clan warriors, it had sent the dead man sprawling onto Taglen. Other vulture warriors, with their bald pates and ugly tattoos, lay all about in various stages of dying. One of his own clan warriors stood watch while the other started to bind the hands of the two surviving enemy. Keliva knelt over the young slinger Eberis attending to her wounds. Their victory was complete.
He went over to Eberis and knelt beside her while Keliva continued with her healing touch. The girl looked in some pain, but out of danger as far as he could tell.
“Anything can help?” he asked the Mystic.
“No. Will be fine.”
He looked down at Eberis, the only warrior in their band younger than he. “Glad all right.”
She managed a weak smile. “Alive is good.”
“Proven?” she asked.
Taglen considered this. He had killed a man in battle and survived. It had all happened so quickly. Darthak had positioned him hidden in the rocks, telling him to come running at his call and kill the nearest man. Then his Karl and the others had launched into battle. He had seen nearly none of it, and had spent most of his own part in the fight crouched behind a rock or on his ass punching a dead man. He wondered if they would mock him for it. But the fact was…