The snow crunched under Owens boot clad feet as he hiked down the mountain. Kallan walked about 3 yards behind him, cloak wrapped around him. They both had packs on their backs, full of supplies and food. They had not left anything behind, including the last of the dried venison and extra tunics.
Owen marched with a stern determination, but he kept as quiet as he could, walking under the trees in places with less snow. He kept a sharp eye for any scouts that could be watching, and soon the two boys arrived at the cave they had stayed the first night. It was not far from the camp, but it was hidden, and they pushed some branches and undergrowth across the entrance. They stowed most of their supplies inside the cave, only taking their weapons with them. Then they began to slowly creep back toward the camp.
Owen was extremely careful, for he knew if they were discovered it would most likely mean their death. Kallan walked behind, putting his feet in exactly the same places as Owen did as the camp slowly came into view through the trees.
The village was ruined, and of the buildings, only burnt logs and ashes remained. Round leather tents stood all through the clearing, and members of the war party stood all around, lounging in the shade and eating. But the most surprising thing was the horse that stood tied to a tree in the center of the clearing. Owen had never seen a horse before, though he had been told many times of how they looked. It was a puzzle to him why mountain barbarian tribes would have a horse.
Next to the horse several men were talking. One was a wild chief with long ragged hair and a skin cloak. The other was much different. He wore a long chainmail tunic belted on under a heavy jerkin of black leather. On his belt was a long sword. He wore a dark red cloak with a large clasp of silver. Tall leather boots were on his feet.
He appeared to be flustered and he talked quickly and quietly, his long oily black hair swishing back and forth as he shook his head back and forth. He said something, then turned to his saddle bags and pulled out a heavy bag. He handed it to the chief, who nodded and smiled. The man stroked his thin beard thoughtfully, and then looked up at the chief again. He smiled and said something quietly. The chief nodded, and then yelled something in his own language gutturally to another barbarian. The rough warrior walked to one of the tents and ducked inside.
Owen heard a scream, then a yell from the barbarian. He jolted out of the tent, holding his hand as it bled all over the ground. The chief growled at him and pointed at the tent, and the warrior reluctantly stumbled back into the tent. This time he was successful. He came back out of the tent, pulling a struggling form by the hair. It was Nai.
Owen started. It was all he could do to stop himself from running into the camp and killing the evil men. Rage overwhelmed his senses and he began to stand up, when Kallan grabbed his belt and pulled him back to the ground. He fell, breathing hard, his hand holding an arrow. He lay there, and then raised his head.
Nai stood now, no longer struggling, as the tall stranger circled her, looking her over. Owens flesh crawled at the sight of the man looking her over like an animal up for auction. He looked at the barbarian. This time he spoke louder, loud enough for Owen and Kallan to hear.
“Are their others?” He said, motioning toward Nai.
“Yes lord, two like hur, but old, and some leetle ones.”
The greasy stranger scoffed, and then swung onto his horse.
“I will take her now and the others when you reach the city.” He tossed the chief some coins, and then grabbed Nai by the arm, pulling her onto the horse behind him, and galloped off down the valley. At the edge of the clearing he stopped and turned.
“Remember, I will expect to meet you in three days!” He turned his horse, and galloped off, Nai holding on desperately behind him.
Owen scrambled to his feet, running back toward the cave. Kallan dashed after him, trying to stay as quiet, but stepped on a log. It tipped, sending him sprawling to the ground with a crash. He pulled himself up, but the damage was done. Owen turned and looked back. A savage howl came from the camp. The boys began to run as fast as they could, dodging trees and fallen logs.
Owen began to run up hill, not toward the cave. If they could lose the barbarians, they could backtrack to the cave. But, if they went there, they might find it and they would lose all their supplies. Kallan followed behind, hand on his sword hilt.
Suddenly, they ran into a clearing. Owen, hearing something, whipped out his bow and nocked an arrow. He turned around, bow ready. His eyes widened as a man leapt onto Kallan. Kallan tripped on a log just on time, and Owen sent an arrow into the vicious man. He fell back, ripping the arrow out of its side with his hand, and then charged again, letting out a howl.
Kallan pulled out his sword and slashed at the beast as it hit him, cutting its head almost off. It fell, dead. Owen breathed a sigh of relief. But it was not over. Three more wolves charged into the clearing on their right, and another on the left. They advanced, but a beastly man blocked their way. They circled them, grinning with their stained teeth.
Owen and Kallan got back to back, bracing themselves for the coming onslaught. Owen held an arrow on the string, aiming it at one, then the other. His hands shook with the tension on his muscles. Kallan held his sword in both hands, bracing his legs in a ready position. Sweat dripped down into Owens eyes. He blinked. Then the man charged.
It came with a bound, missing Owen by less than an inch with its massive metal claws. He let the string go, missing it with the arrow as it slammed into him. He rolled, dropping his bow and putting his hands over his neck. He rolled onto his back as the creature jumped onto him again. It landed right on top of him, its hands on either side of his body. It opened its mouth to howl, but the howl never came.
An arrow sprouted from its mouth, and it tumbled on its side, spraying blood over Owen. He sat up, and saw Kallan slashing at one of them. It batted the sword out of his hand, then was about to give the killing blow when a strange whistling noise sounded and brown streak shot from the sky. It hit the man in the face, and then began to fly around its head, annoying it.
The third barbarian ran toward Owen, who readied his knife, but it was felled by two more arrows to the throat. He turned and saw Kallan stab a man twice in the chest.
The final man jumped toward Owen, but an arrow sprouted from its chest. Owen turned and ran to where Kallan stood, covered in blood and grime from the fight. He grabbed his bow from where it lay on the ground. The large bird that had helped Kallan glided back toward the edge of the clearing. Owen turned. There stood a tall figure. He held out his hand, and the bird landed carefully on it, taking the piece of meat and gulping it down.
The figure petted his large hawk, and then pushed his light hair out of his eyes. His face was scarred with barely healed wounds, but it was unmistakably Marcus. His longbow was strapped to his back, along with a worn quiver full of barbarian arrows. His knives were strapped to his belt over his grey tunic. A heavy cloak was wrapped around him.
He smiled a grim smile at their surprise, and then held up his hand. The red-tailed hawk took off from his hand, and he walked toward them. He walked with a slight limp.
“I thought you were dead.” Said Kallan, looking slightly confused. “How did you survive?”
“I almost didn’t.” replied Marcus. “I crawled away after the battle ended. Since then I have been spying, and stealing what I could. I got my bow back, and these arrows,” He motioned to the quiver, “and some supplies. Since then I have been looking for survivors. I know that there are some at the camp. They were captured.” Owen nodded, his eyes downcast, but he did not speak. Kallan spoke up.
“What about the men? Did any of them survive?”
Marcus shook his head. “None that I know of. They burned the bodies the morning after the battle, and I watched that. Rory, Morden, Baird, Stephan….. They were all burned.” He looked down sorrowfully.
“What of father?” asked Kallan.
“No sign. He was not captured or killed while I was there at least. We can only hope.” He looked across at Owen.
“Many of the women and children are unaccounted for. Only mother, the halflings, Nai, and Angela are captured. Not many were killed by the wolves, for those were burned. Unless they were eaten.” Owen felt sick. “But, many of them are still out there, alive or dead, though I’m not sure where. I was searching for them when I found you.”
Owen nodded. Then he looked back.
“Let’s go back to the cave and get our supplies. Then we can talk on what to do next. It’s good to see you alive.”
Marcus followed the other two to the cave, where they slipped inside. They ate a small amount of meat and then began to talk. Marcus spoke first.
“I’m curious about what happened to you now. I’ve told you my story, now tell yours.”
Owen began to speak, but Kallan cut in.
“We ran, and camped here the first night. After that we went up Beartooth, got supplies from a little hidey hole we have up there, and then came back down early today.”
“Hmmm……” Marcus looked thoughtful. “What should we do next, that is the question.”
Owen looked up from where he had been staring at the wall.
“We should go after them.” Kallan and Marcus both looked up in surprise. “We have to rescue mother and the others. And,” he looked at Kallan. “We have to rescue Nai.” We have to chase that man, the one with the horse.” Marcus raised his eyebrows. Kallan explained.
“When we were watching the village, a man came. He wasn’t a barbarian, but he talked to them and ordered them around. Then he took Nai.” He turned to Owen. “I know how you feel, but you would never catch up to a man galloping on horseback, especially because he’s got a full day’s head start.”
“I can’t just leave her!” Owen looked desperate. “I’ll go alone if I have to, but I have to save her.” Marcus looked slightly puzzled, but then he smiled.
“Ah, that’s it.” He laughed a small laugh. Owen and Kallan looked at him, puzzled.
“I’d just never thought of that. You having feelings for Nai. Interesting.” Owen had forgotten that Marcus had never heard of his feelings for Nai.
“Does she know?” Marcus asked.
“I don’t think so. I never thought something like this would happen, and I have wanted to talk to her and her father for a long time. I just…… I could never bring myself to do it.” He buried his face in his hands. “Now it’s too late.”
Marcus looked sympathetically at him. “I am truly sorry Owen, but the more pressing task is to free the others. The barbarians will be on their guard now, so we will have to be careful not to be seen.”
Owen looked up. Once again his eyes burned with cold fire.
“Then I have a plan to do it.” He began to outline a plan, a desperate plan, one that would most likely not succeed. But, it was their only choice, a last desperate bid for the freedom of their friends, and the annihilation of the barbarians.
© Aidan Moon 2012