Vol.4, Ch.5, P.4


With Rolf, Sig, and braves of fewer than two scores in number, we roused our horses to stampede headlong through Balasthea’s southern gate as it stood open, breaching the knight-ranks from behind in their despair at the fire upon the keep.

Emerging from the gatehouse mouth that thundered with our hoofbeats, we were greeted with a scene of battle: frays upon frays of knights and fort-defenders in bitter combat. Upon the ramparts, the bastions, the stairways; over the bailey, the messes, the training grounds—no matter where the eye looked, ever was to be found silver clashing with iron and steel. But fair were not the numbers. Throng after throng of knights there were, and the defenders, being scant, were putting up frail resistance, desperate and courageous though ‘twas.

In token of this, the din of battle sounded, too, from within every building, and in the fire-lit windows of the keep, behind the issuing smoke, there could be seen shadows in wrestle and struggle. Indeed, already the defence seemed failing… and the knights: brimming from the fort’s every crevice.

Aghast, to my companions I turned. “Rolf! The enemy! They’ve infiltrated deep!” I yelled.

“Then time to take a plunge!” answered Rolf. “I’ll root out the enemy and save whomever I can!” With that, he jumped off his steed. We followed suit, and altogether raced swift to the battle lines. “Lise! You handle the bailey!” Rolf urged me. “The defenders are leaderless, lost! You must rally them! Lead them!” And there, into the mists of war he vanished.

For true was command lost amongst the defenders. Each on his own ’twas, striving fey to protect his dwindling charges. A pitiable sight… They must needs be reformed—folded into our own, if ever we desired any chance of survival, let alone victory. ’Twas certain that numbers were against us, but in mine I had faith. Mighty amongst the mighty these Edelkrieger were, my personal braves. Even after enduring the battle at dawn and the harsh travel to this fort, they each seemed ready for more action yet.

And one other there was amongst us: the Man to whom Rolf trusted. In him, I… wait, no!


“Sig, wh—damn! The mad dog!”

There he was: Sig, tearing into battle without order or counsel. And as he roared, so, too, did his sword, and before any thought of mine could finish, three knights had fallen dead and ablood afore him. Yes, fine; monstrous be his strength, I concede. But a pinch of discretion never did anyone…

“Sir!? Captain!!”


Wonderment took me then: by the sudden screams and fright on the knights’ faces, ’twas evident that one of Sig’s defeated three was a field captain. Not with one glance could the ordinary eye so discern the presence of a commander amongst many. And yet Sig, this wild Man, had done just that. ’Twas then that I remembered Rolf’s words: that oft did Sig follow his “nose” more than his wits.

“Oi! Finish your piss an’ get fightin’!” he barked asudden. “Ya faffin’ birdbrain, you!”

Birdbrain? What be a “birdbrain”? And who? Me, was it? Must be; for true was he glaring and scowling my way. But what of birds and their brains? They are plenty smart, I should think. Never mind; a later debate with him was in order. For now, I had to act.

“Defenders! Defenders, all!” I called loud to a phalanx of spear-braves, who stood their ground upon the bailey. “Help is here! Jarl-daughter Lise is come!”

Already the battle seemed well underway, but these guardians of the fort—against evil odds did their efforts in the defences yet endure. ‘Twas not to be gainsaid, their mettle, which ought prove vital yet; a sword still sharp, a spear still keen, needing now only a commander’s wielding!

“Shift leftwards and close ranks!” I bade them. “Be ready—we chance a flank attack soon!”

A daring move ‘twas to declare our coming manoeuvre, but so much the better: ‘twould well-serve to trouble enemy minds with one more worry. The defenders, for their part, obliged as best they could. Though a growing wariness shaded their every face, the expressions upon them yet shone clear with resolve—an enheartening sign.

After checking quick that all were in place—“Now, attack!”—my braves and I lunged into battle.




A roar and a rive of the soot-steel, and down went another knight, bone and breastplate cloven open—a deed done ad nauseam in my race through the keep. The fires here were terribly grown by this point, but sweltering, noisome, and asmoke though it was, there still remained many an enemy scrambling about. Yet it was cheek-by-jowl fighting here in these hallways, proving a curse to any squad set on circling and hacking me to pieces. No, I would not fall here, not like that; not even with weighing down upon me the burden of yesternight’s battle and the uncounted hours of hard riding.

The knights must be felled, the civilians saved—ever as I rushed onwards did this single thought echo in my head. But after having gained the third and final floor of this keep, I found myself achieving only the former objective. Indeed, not one victim had I come across yet. Troubling, to be sure, but that neither had I chanced upon any of their corpses was a positive sign, at the least.

They ought’ve fled up to these floors, I’d assumed… Had they found some way out, perhaps? I could scarce think how, but a great gladness that would be, if so. Hopeful, I pushed on through the hallways. Soon, the smoke became harsh and hateful to smell, as beneath its black plumes raged fires spitting and flaring without warning. The speed of their spreading, too, was infernal… what fuel was it that could feed so fierce a blaze?

But even as the heat howled and harrowed away at me in my haste, it did not hinder me in the least. This overcoat of direbear’s leather—what a boon it was proving, being such a stout bulwark against these licking flames. Dita: the hand that had fashioned it; her mother: the heart that had fostered her, that had taught her such kindness enough to conquer hatred itself… to them I owed all my gratitude.

“You! The treacher himself!”

“Dear, oh dear! The devil’s home-come to his hell, has he!?”

There: a band of knights screeching above the flames. Rather infamous I’d become to their lot, of late. With a body as burly as mine and a blade as black as the soot-steel’s, however, perhaps it’d never been in the cards to escape their noses for long—and certainly not when Sig’s and mine were the only treasonous stenches to sniff out.

…But that ought change soon enough, I’m sure.


One after another, the knights threw themselves upon me, and each and every one did I cut down, stepping over their carcasses without ceremony and continuing quickly on my way. How many had I felled by this point? The count was long lost, but as their bodies mounted, so did my fears for the civilians. How I wished it was so that they’d all escaped, truly, yet ever did doubt prick away at my mind.

A doubt… sprung from somewhere, somehow. Or something—someone.

Yes. Even now was I hearing it: the whisper without words, bidding, begging without voice.

“Ach… what? What is it?” I grumbled under my breath as I now stood stalled amidst a blazing corridor. “I don’t… I can’t understand you. ‘Something’… ‘somewhere’, is it?”

This was evil, no doubt. Idling during so pressing a moment, mumbling away like a madman… but there was nothing for it. This whisper, this ghost of a thought; whatsoever it was, I could not refuse it, if even were it in me to try. It was as the moon murmuring down upon a wolf, who could do naught but look back, lost and frustrated.

“What’s this you say?” I growled again, growing angry. “What would you have of me?”

Damn this. What is it?

Don’t you dare take me for some sycophant of the Deiva. It’s Her herd I long left, I’ll have you know, my own way that I walk now. Who you are, what you are, I know not and care not. So sit silent upon your high seat, why can’t you? To us troubled children of the land, this struggle reckons life and death, existence and extinction. This fight for a fair future, this battle to break what keeps us broken, this—

“…Down?” I halted. “What mean you, ‘down’?”

A barb on the bum, this.

Can you not see? I am in haste! Fires and foes abound! Innocents suffer!

What? Is that wrath you reek of now? Well, take it and get it gone, why don’t you? This wolf has had his fill of moons, of mighty ones smirking from on high!

“I’ll not play games! Have it clear, damn you!”

A weasel of a wordster…!

If you have need of me, then be quick and plain about it! So I say again: what would you have of me!?

“Down? Below? Hence, is it!?”

Come on! Answer! This is no time to chew the fat! Down, you said!? Down where some ‘promise’ waits for me!? Where help is begged for!?

“That does it! Enough of your rambling!” I barked. “Something… someone! Calls me!” Clenching hard its hilt, I heaved aloft the length of wolfsteel. “And I will answer!”

Down plunged the heavy hewer, down upon whence I stood, down into the failing floor. Splinters sprang, wood wailed, timbers burst—and there, the ground gaped open.


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