Anyway, here it is - no title yet
The mercenary compound stood solid and enduring on top of the broad hill. The town below it seemed to almost huddle in its shelter, craving its protection. Men and women patrolled the high stone walls, their demeanour calm and relaxed but not careless in any way. The two men standing on either side of the open gates stood in the casual manner of experienced warriors, alert and ready should trouble arise but not tense. At the moment they were eying a large group approaching the compound with a mix of curiosity and resignation.
“A Lord and his retainers?” the older of the two men suggested with a quick grin.
“Hell of a lot of retainers,” the younger responded with a frown.
“Maybe but of what?”
“Someone he wants us to fight?”
“The Captain wouldn’t take a winter job,” the younger man said decisively.
“He might if he thought it was worth it,” the older disagreed. “True, we don’t need to take winter jobs anymore. Haven’t for years but he would if the price was right.”
“S’pose you’re right,” the younger replied with a shrug.
They dropped the conversation as the group rode into earshot. They were led by a harsh-looking blond man with pale blue eyes. He wore a sword at his hip and was dressed in black leather but the two guards could hear the jingle of chain mail under his leather tunic. The men following him were dressed similarly and all of them wore grim expressions.
When they got a little closer, the older of the guards stepped forward.
“Halt. State your business.”
“My name is Sircel Mylan,” the leader said. “I wish to speak to your Captain.”
The guard stared at him for a moment then gave a single nod.
“You won’t be able to take your entire entourage up,” he stated. “You, three guards, those are our rules. The rest of your men can wait for you just inside the compound.”
Mylan inclined his head briefly. “Of course,” he said as he gestured to three of his people to come forward.
The younger of the two guards gave a piercing whistle and a moment later a young woman appeared next to him. Mylan and his three chosen companions dismounted and handed their reins to others in their group.
“Please take Master Sircel Mylan up to the Captain,” the older guard said to the young woman.
She nodded and looked over at Mylan. “Sir? If you would please come with me?”
Mylan and his three companions followed the young woman into the compound. She took them over to a large two story stone building on the eastern side as the rest of their group was ushered through the gates. Once inside the building, the young woman led them up a flight of stairs and along a corridor until they reached a closed wooden door. She knocked twice and waited until the call to enter came. She opened the door and walked in with Mylan and his men on her heels to find an older man leaning over a table examining a map.
“Captain, this is Master Sircel Mylan,” she said briskly.
The Captain turned around revealing a man in his late forties, tall with grizzled black hair, sharp black eyes and tanned, scarred skin. He was wearing shirt and trews with knee length boots. He gave a reserved smile and walked forward.
“Thank you, Hanna,” he said to the young woman and she saluted and left. He then turned his attention to Mylan and extended a hand. “Welcome. My name is Vellen Sheve.”
Mylan stepped forward and shook hands. “I am very pleased to meet you, Captain Sheve. Your Company comes very highly recommended.”
“Thank you,” Sheve said with a tight smile. “And how may my Company help you?”
Mylan launched into an explanation about a feud that had apparently developed between his family and another as one of his men wandered over to the window that overlooked the compound. He stared out for a moment then raised a hand in an aborted wave. He then cleared his throat.
Mylan immediately stopped speaking and drew his sword, leaping at Sheve and lopping his head off before the Captain could react. The man at the window let out a shrill whistle and the sudden sounds of startled cries and screams started to drift up from the compound.
“Let’s go,” Mylan snapped and he and his men ran from the room.
Mylan’s men spread out through the entire compound, leaving carnage and death in their wake. At first the mercenaries, having been caught completely by surprise in the comfort and safety of their own compound, were slaughtered but as those further away from initial attack heard the screams of their fellows, they were able to grab weapons and occasionally armour and offer some resistance. But by that stage it was all too late; Mylan and his men had the upper hand and after a bloody half hour they regrouped in the middle of the compound.
“Well?” Mylan asked of no one in particular as he stripped blood from his sword.
“All dead or dying, sir,” came the brisk response.
“Good,” Mylan said shortly. “Let’s get out of here.”
They mounted their horses and a moment later they were pounding down the road away from the compound. None of them looked back.
Dellon Margrave lay curled on his side on the floor. His breath was coming in slow wheezes and he was lying in a pool of his own blood. His sword was lying where it had fallen when the mortal stroke had come and now his hand lay limply a short distance from it. He was surprised to feel so little pain and he wondered whether that was a good sign or not. From the way his vision was going grey and fuzzy, he suspected it wasn’t.
When he’d heard the screams of his fellow mercenaries, he’d snatched up his sword from the weapons rack in his room. He’d been halfway across the room, just about to reach out to open the door when it had flown open and two men had charged in. He’d been caught off guard and the two men had had the advantage. He was still trying to work out how they taken him down so easily.
He was also wondering whether anyone else had survived. Once the men had left him for dead, he’d heard them moving along the corridor and the screams and curses as others died. Finally he’d heard the sound of horses galloping away and he’d then tried to move. He was fairly sure he’d blacked out at the pain of that attempt and since he’d regained consciousness he hadn’t tried again. He suspected that his friends were dead or, like him, dying.
Inwardly he raged at the idea. He didn’t want to die, especially not like this. He tried move, to get up, to do anything but the moment he did, pain raced through him and he slumped down to the floor again, panting until he finally lost consciousness again.
The compound remained silent, only the occasional moan from the dying floating through the air. It remained that way as a lone figure hurried up the road towards the open gates. From the robes the slender figure was wearing, he was a priest. He was young, perhaps in his late twenties, with light brown, almost blond, hair. His brown eyes, normally full of warmth and amusement, were now filled with worry and fear as the stench of blood and death drifted down to him. He quickened his pace and was jogging as he came through the gates.
He came to a stuttering halt as he saw the carnage inside the compound. Still bodies were strewn over the practice grounds on the western side and everywhere he looked there was blood and worse.
“No,” he breathed. “I can’t be too late.”
He hitched his robes up and ran over to the bodies on the ground, examining the face of each one. While he was mostly trying to determine if anyone was alive, he also seemed to be looking for someone. It didn’t take him long to establish that everyone outside was dead and he hurried into the nearest building. He searched from room to room but found nothing but death until he opened a door on the first floor.
On first glance the body of the man curled up on his side looked like it could not possibly be alive. The pool of blood the man was lying in was larger then any the priest had seen before. But he could see the barest rise and fall of the man’s chest and a slight wheeze when every shallow breath was taken. He could also see the face of the man and he let out a breath he was barely aware he had been holding.
“Thank Eram,” he murmured as he hurried forward.
He fell to his knees next to the unconscious man, ignoring the blood that soaked into his robes. He held his shaking hands over the man’s head and chest and closed his eyes, bowing his head as he concentrated. After a few moments a blue glow surrounded his hands. Tendrils trailed down and wrapped themselves around various parts of the unconscious man. The tendrils slowly faded as though they were being absorbed and when they were all gone, the priest slumped down a little, drawing in several deep breaths. He opened his eyes and was relieved to see that the unconscious man was breathing more easily. As he watched, the man’s eyes flickered then slowly opened. He barely seemed aware of anything around him but he finally noticed the priest kneeling in front of him and a question grew in his eyes.
“Hush, don’t speak,” the priest said gently. “You’ve been badly hurt. I’ve healed you as best as I can for now.”
Dellon blinked as he struggled to make sense of the man’s words. He felt so tired and numb and sleep was dragging him down into its depths. As he succumbed he heard the man mutter, seemingly under his breath.
“Oh, Eram. How is this part of what You wanted? He’s barely alive; she got here before me. I am merely a priest. How can I protect him?”
The priest shook his head and noticed that the man had lost consciousness again. He rubbed his hands on the robes over his thighs then got to his feet. He grimaced briefly at the slick wet feel of his blood-stained robes then dismissed the discomfort and leaned over to grab hold of Dellon’s shoulders. He was reluctant to move the other man too much since he was aware that he had broken bones but this newly made charnel house was not the place for a wounded man to recover. He gingerly manoeuvred the unconscious body until he had Dellon draped carefully over his shoulders. He retraced his route through the building and found the exit. He then trudged across the compound with his heavy burden and headed down towards the town.
When he reached the first houses, the inhabitants gasped at the sight of the blood and hurried out. He ignored them and kept walking towards the inn. Before he got there he was intercepted by the village blacksmith.
“Priest,” the burly man said calmly, placing a hand out, palm up. “What has happened?”
The priest hesitated for a moment, slightly breathless from carrying his burden. “There…there has been a massacre up at the mercenary compound.”
Gasps and murmurs rippled through the gathered crowd. The blacksmith paled and lowered his hand.
“Who is that you carry?”
“Dellon Margrave,” the priest said. “He was still alive when I arrived. Please go up there. They may be more survivors.”
The blacksmith nodded and the villagers quickly gathered together then scattered. The priest ignored them and continued on to the inn. He went straight up the stairs at the side of the main room and made his way along the corridor to the room he had rented less than an hour ago. He wrestled briefly with the door, opened it then staggered in and carefully lowered his burden onto the bed. He touched three fingers of his right hand to Dellon’s chest and blue glow appeared. He sighed with relief; he had caused no further damage by carrying the man the way he had. He covered Dellon with the blanket folded at the end of the bed and stepped away.
He leaned briefly against the wall, wiping the sweat from his face, then he walked around to the end of the bed. He leaned over and fumbled with the bags he had left there, pulling out a clean robe and a towel. He hesitated for a moment and looked down at Dellon. It was the first time he’d had a chance to have a good look at the focus of his life for the foreseeable future.
Dellon Margrave was older than him, in his mid-thirties. He was lean and wiry with medium length brown hair. His eyes when the priest had seen them earlier were hazel and he looked to be a couple of inches shy of the priest’s own six feet. He looked like he would be competent and capable under the best of circumstances though right now he was pale and wan, looking weak and diminished.
The priest shook his head, as though dislodging those thoughts, and walked slowly out of the room. He returned several minutes later in the clean robe, his blood-stained one draped over his arm. He was carrying a basin of water, several cloths and his towel was draped over his shoulder with a second towel. He walked over to the bed, placing the basin onto the small table that stood next to the bedstead. He dropped his old robe and his towel on the floor the placed the cloths and the new towel next to the basin. He pulled the blanket away from Dellon and gently stripped the man of his bloody clothes. He used the cloths and water to clean the half-healed wounds then dried him off. He then retrieved a small satchel from his bags and used its contents to bandage the wounds with casual expertise. Once he was finished he eased the blankets out from underneath Dellon’s still unconscious body and pulled them up.
He cleaned everything up and returned the basin to the innkeeper’s wife. When he got back to the room, he collapsed into the small chair near the window and finally allowed himself to relax. This was not what he’d expected when he’d been set this task. He’d anticipated resistance, he’d marshalled arguments he could use to sway Dellon Margrave to his cause but he had not expected that She would be one step ahead of him. The priest had no doubts that She was behind this. She was the one who would fall if Dellon succeeded and She had taken steps.
He leaned forward and buried his face in his hands as he tried to decide what to do next. A small sound from the direction of the bed had him quickly looking up again and he saw that Dellon was awake, barely awake, his eyes mere slits but there was intelligence and comprehension in them.
“Who?” came the whispered question.
The priest hurried over and fell to his knees beside the bed.
“My name is Tyras Pasatt. I am a Priest of Eram,” he said hastily.
“Priest,” Dellon breathed. “What...happened?”
Tyras hesitated for a moment. “I...I’m not sure,” he prevaricated. “Your...Company was attacked from what I saw.”
“I don’t know,” Tyras replied with a grimace at the lie but he couldn’t afford for Dellon to get upset right now. “Please, Dellon. I will tell you everything I know when you’re better. I promise. That’s why I’ve been sent.”
Dellon’s face creased into a frown as his eyes fluttered. “Know...my name?” he murmured suspiciously.
“Yes...yes, I know your name,” Tyras admitted. “I’ve been looking for you. But that’s not important right now. You need to rest. You were very badly wounded.”
Dellon looked like he wanted to ask more questions, to protest, but sleep had him in its clutches and he faded out again. Tyras sagged back on his heels and let out a gusty sigh. He scrubbed his face with one hand then straightened up. He reached for the spare blanket he thrown back at the base of the bed and set about making a meagre bed for himself on the floor. He blew out the candles and settled down; he was sure Dellon would sleep through the night now and the rest could be dealt with in the morning.